Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

An entertaining low budget sci-film with lots of action

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by William Alland
Written by William Alland, Martin Berkeley
Music by Irving Gerts, William Lava
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Edited by Chester Schaeffer
Distributed by Universal-International
Running time: 79 min


Craig Stevens: Col. Joe Parkman
William Hopper: Dr. Nedrick Jackson
Alix Talton: Marge Blaine
Donald Randolph: Maj. Gen. Mark Ford
Pat Conway: Sgt. Pete Allen
Florenz Ames: Prof. Anton Gunther
Paul Smith: Corporal
Phil Harvey: Lou
Floyd Simmons: Army Sergeant
Paul Campbell: Lt. Fred Pizar
Helen Jay: Mrs. Farley

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

The Deadly Mantis opens with a camera zoom-in on a map showing the North Atlantic Ocean followed by a small island in the Weddell Sea close to the Antarctic Circle. A huge volcanic eruption then occurs after which the camera tracks across the map to Greenland and then on to a point close to the North Pole.

For those of us today who are accustomed to experiencing the increasing effects of global warning, we witness with somewhat less surprise than what might be expected huge areas of ice breaking up.

What is surprising is that the breakup and melting of the ice reveals the body of a giant praying mantis!


What If?......... 

Spoilers follow below

(Lines within inverted commas taken directly from the film)


Special Feature: Dew Line Draws the Line!

America is guarded day and night by a fence – an electronic fence made of RADAR “designed to protect us against attack.”

Our way of life, our values and freedoms are continually being protected by successive impenetrable electronic radar barriers: The Pine tree radar fence, The mid-Canada radar fence and The Dew Line or Distant Early Warning line.

Rest assured that “the work continues day and night around the clock….”



(Special Report) 



Weather Station Found Destroyed 

On _____, at an advance warning radar station outpost in northern Canada called “Weather Four,” two technicians reported having detected something unusual on their radar. It appears that before they could work out what was going on, the entire outpost was destroyed.

Pilots of the aircraft that were dispatched to investigate reported to radar station “Red Eagle One” (part of the DEW line early warning system) evidence of heavy damage to the building.

Col Joe Parkman of Red Eagle One station flew out to the destroyed outpost to inspect the damage. Col Parkman found that the outpost building was totally destroyed and all the electronic equipment had been smashed. He was at a loss to explain the disappearance of the two men who were stationed there but was convinced that the shack had not been destroyed by a gale.

Upon checking the perimeter of the outpost, Col Parkman discovered a series of strange marks resembling furrows scratched into the snow. Each long furrow ended in what appeared to be three prongs.

While the mystery of the furrows was being puzzled over, Red Eagle reported a strange intermittent radar contact. A red alert was sounded and jet fighters were scrambled to intercept the contact. 

With the bogey at 90 miles’ distance, it suddenly disappeared and the jets were subsequently ordered to “return to home plate.”

It was later reported that a C47 transport plane flying in the same vicinity was attacked and destroyed. The plane’s wreckage was located on a glacier.

When Col Parkman went to investigate the C47 wreckage, he discovered similar furrow-like markings as those at the weather station. As was the case at the weather station, no human remains were found at the crash site.

What was discovered, however, was a strange 5-foot-long appendage embedded in the plane’s fuselage. By all accounts it looked “like it had been broken off something.”

The situation involving the destroyed outpost, the detection and attempted “bogey” interception, the C47 crash and the finding of the mysterious object was soon referred to CONAD in Colorado Springs.

CONAD or the “Continental Ait Defence Command” is the “focal point of the sonic shield that guards the North American continent.” In essence, its existence could mean the difference between “life and death for millions of Americans.”

At a conference of scientists called by General Mark Ford, it was determined that the appendage-like object did in fact come from some living creature and was therefore organic, but that the identity of the creature it belonged to was unknown. It was then proposed that Prof Nedrick Jackson, a palaeontologist at the Museum of Natural History be contacted to help determine the object’s origin.


From Prof Nedrick Jackson’s diary

After examining the 5-foot-long mottled green object, I am convinced that it is like cartilage but definitely not bone. I know that it “can’t be from an animal.” Now that we “know what it can’t be” we can with more confidence determine “what it can be.” I am certain that the object is a torn-off hook or spur from an insect's leg. It is also a creature that can eat human flesh. What flesh eating insect of normal size would have such a hook? Grasshoppers or crickets are not meat eaters. Or course! “There is no more deadly or voracious creature than the praying mantis.” The appendage we have is a spur or hook section of that creature’s forelimbs. Yes, that’s it! A gigantic praying mantis!

In prehistoric times insects grew to much larger sizes as evidenced by fossils of 2 foot dragonflies. I believe that if a creature was frozen quickly enough, like say, the frozen mammoths that were found in Siberia, there might be a chance that if the creature thawed out, it may be able to reanimate.

“I'm convinced that we're dealing with a Mantis in whose geological world the smallest insects were as large as man, and now failing to find those insects as food, well... it's doing the best that it can.”

At the institute, Marge has been pressing me for information. Can’t say I blame her as she only wants the chance to run a scoop in her museum magazine. She certainly has not lost her nose for news.



Greenland Eskimos Terrorized

In Greenland, Eskimo or Inuit villagers have reported seeing a gigantic beast which has attacked them causing death and injuries to an unknown number of locals.

Whole communities are reported to have scrambled to evacuate to safety in their canoes……


Shortwave Broadcast from Moscow 

This is Radio Moscow. Reports have reached us here in the Soviet Union that the Imperialist American war-mongering Government is now afraid of being attacked not by the peace-loving peoples of the USSR and like-minded defenders of Socialism, but instead by giant insects! In the last few years we have had reports of giant ants, spiders, locusts and even scorpions! What is next? Mosquitos? So what is going on in the paranoid minds of the capitalist military and Industrial bourgeois establishment?

Oh come Imperialist swill in Washington! Your so-called free media and the public is hungry for information. And so what is the response? Authority in the form of your administration’s lackey, Gen Ford trots out the same tired worn out excuse for withholding information from your public and I quote;

‘…cooperate with us to avoid panic and hysteria…. I know I can count on you.”

Is this the kind of America you want where your media, your military and your government collude against you, the American public and your so-called democratic ideals and values under the guise of acting to protect you and that somehow you’re all in this together in some concocted crisis?


You may as well take the time to Go to The Lobby and get some treats while Jackson and Marge visit Parkman at Red Eagle One. There’s no need to stick around and cringe at a bunch of adolescent military praying mantises as they gather around and ogle Marge. They’re almost robbed of the power of speech but not enough to prevent them from babbling such inane lines as;

“He’s with a woman. A FEMALE woman!”
“I thought they stopped making them.”
Dr. Ned Jackson: It looks like you don't have too many women up here, Colonel.
Col. Joe Parkman: Well, we have a little joke up here. The boys say there's a girl behind every tree. Only try and find a tree.

Oh of course, there’s the odd wolf whistle too.

If the Soviets decided to invade the US, all they had to do was send in an advance force of pretty Russian women causing the American GI’s to stop in their tracks and wonder if they’re women – FEMALE women! By the time they had worked out whether or not they had stopped making them, it would be all over. 


Excerpt from Report of Col Parkman to Dept. of Defense

Prof Nedrick Jackson reported from crash site the presence of strange marks measuring over 8 and a half feet in length.

Red Eagle One attacked by giant Mantis. Base personnel ordered to combat stations, ‘Condition Red.’ Aircraft scrambled. Threat driven off by use of flame throwers and machine guns.

After a nine-hour period “Hunter 4” from the air patrols that were sent out in response to threat posed by giant Mantis reported failure to locate the creature after its attack on the base. Pilots ordered to continue search.

Reports received of a fishing boat out at sea in heavy fog attacked, most likely by the hostile mantis creature. Two deck hands reported missing, presumed killed by the creature.

Group Capt. Hawkins of Mid Canada Line radar station reported an intermittent unidentified radar contact at 0400.

By plotting the previous attacks, it has been confirmed that the creature appears to be heading south to the tropics and specifically to South America where the conditions will be similar to what it is used to.

Creature last sighted heading south from Newfoundland.





Special Broadcast

“This program is being presented by the Continental Air Defense Command”

Gen Ford: “I want to say at the outset that contrary to speculation and rumour and certain newspaper headlines, the so-called ‘Deadly Mantis’ is no imaginary scare…. It’s a very real and present danger.”

Col Parker: “I saw this creature attack our base…. It will be one of you, the devoted men and women of Civilian Observer Corps that will spot it the next time it appears.”


Radio News Broadcast 

We interrupt this transmission to bring you the latest news from an aircraft carrier patrolling along the Atlantic coast. The “Deadly Mantis” has been spotted and aircraft were immediately dispatched to intercept the creature. It appears that the attack was successful but one of the pilots was not able to confirm the kill due to low overcast conditions.

If the creature has managed to survive, it is thought by experts that it would have flown low into the clouds and close to sea level under cover of the fog.

TV News Broadcast 

Reporter: I’m here in Maryland at the scene of a freak train accident in which an engine and five cars were overturned.

(Walks slowly further on with the scene of destruction in the background)

I am about to speak with one of the local police officers to see if any further light can be shed on this horrific incident. Officer, what seems to have been the cause of this train crash?

Police Officer: (As a man wearing a military uniform and a woman he had been speaking to move off) All we know so far is that the accident seems to have been caused by the fog ……

(Unnoticed on the sodden soil is an impression made by something huge….) 

TV News Broadcast

Reporter: As you will remember, I had earlier reported from Maryland on the train crash incident. It turns out that it may not have been an accident after all. Another incident, possibly related has occurred in which an Interurban bus has been demolished.

(Shot of mangled metal carcass of bus lying on its side like a mortally wounded disembowelled beast)

According to an eye-witness who was on the bus, not long after she disembarked, a giant Mantis using the fog as cover ambushed and attacked the bus. Rescue workers who arrived to attend to the injured witness found the bus empty.

So far this makes a total of 7 “accidents” in the last 24 hours!


Emergency Broadcast System

This is a general alert!

“The mantis has been sighted over Washington”
All defense personnel are to be on high alert!

Military Chiefs Briefing the US President

General Blunthammer: Mr President, the creature has penetrated the airspace over Washington. Reports have come in of its flying low over the city causing widespread panic. It even proceeded to climb the Washington monument!

The President: I heard of worse behaviour from some tourists! So, what do you propose we should about this entomological intruder?

(A functionary scuttles into the room and hands the general a message)

General Blunthammer: Mr President, the bug has left Washington and has swung north east towards Baltimore. Sir, I recommend ordering all AA guns along its flight path to open fire on anything unidentified, unusual, untoward and unexplained!

The President: Very well general, make it so. Things were so much easier when all we had to worry about were just the Russians!


As the creature drops below radar coverage range and heads North East towards New York City, aircraft are scrambled in an attempt to engage and destroy the creature. On board one of the jets is our erstwhile Col Parkman:

Parkman: (Singing) Here we go into the wide blue yonder, heading straight into the sun!

(Suddenly the giant mantis looms up right in front of him and rams his plane)

Parkman: (bailing out) Here we go……. wo, wo, wo, wo……

Pilot of Beagle 17: “We’ve splashed mantis.” One jet hit. Pilot bailed out.

Television Interview:

Interviewer: So after you bailed out of your crippled jet and were picked up by military personnel, what happened next?

Col Parkman: I learnt that the creature had been badly hurt by the accident involving my jet and had landed in New York where it managed to crawl into the Manhattan Tunnel.

The Tunnel was filled with smoke and sealed by using water saturated tarpaulins. Even though it was felt that the creature had been mortally wounded by the aerial attack and accident, Gen Ford was of the opinion that it might try to break out.

Interviewer: What measures were taken to prevent this from occurring?

Col Parkman: I was given permission to lead an assault on the creature. Donning protective suits and armed with guns and special chemical mines, my team pushed into the tunnel under cover of the smoke.

The smoke formed a heavy eerie mist-like atmosphere in the tunnel and the only sounds that could be heard were strange echoing footfalls, a peculiar roaring coming from the injured creature, and the heavy thumping of our hearts beating. Strangely missing was the sound of my own breathing within the protected little environment of my suit.

Suddenly, the sound of metal being hurled about shattered the tense stillness of the tunnel as the creature began moving around and attacking abandoned cars as if it held them responsible for its predicament.

Upon spotting my team the creature emerged out of the cloud of thick smoke like some impossible monstrous gargantuan behemoth entering our world from another dimension.

Interviewer: How did you respond to this threatening situation?

Col Parkman: As the giant Mantis advanced towards us, we opened fire with our guns and special mines. Our initial response only managed to slow the creature down, not kill it. It took one final assault until the creature finally succumbed.

Interviewer: Colonel, I along with our viewers feel proud of our brave military personnel who will go to any lengths to protect our country from all threats to our way of life and all we hold dear. Don’t you agree, Professor Jackson?

Jackson: Well, yes, but I can’t help but feel sorry for that giant Mantis that found itself out of place and out of time through no fault of its own. It only acted on its instinct to survive but how could it possibly survive in our world?

Interviewer: Thank you Col Parkman and Professor Jackson. We’ll be back after this word from our sponsor, Garden Grub and Pest Power Pellets……...

Points of Interest

  • Of particular note in The Deadly Mantis, are the night scenes involving the Mantis, as well as the final tunnel sequence. The black and white photography combined with the use of a fog and smoke-shrouded atmosphere as well as a forceful and suspenseful musical score are all combined quite effectively. 

  • As it moves through the smoke-filled Manhattan Tunnel, the giant Mantis seems almost like a forerunner to the impossible monsters in more recent films as The Mist (2007) and Cloverfield (2008). 

  • The Deadly Mantis is definitely a film that reflects the Cold War period. It is almost as if it sets out to let the Soviets know about the strength of the US air defense system and that a sneak attack on their part would not succeed. There’s also a measure of reassurance for the domestic audience who are expected to believe that they are all in it together when it comes to national defence and security. 
  • In the movie, the Ground Observer Corps are asked to help in spotting the Mantis. This was an actual group that existed during and after World War Two. 
  • The first Ground Observer Corps was a World War Two Civil Defense program of the United States Army Air Forces to protect against air attack. The 1.5 million civilian observers at 14,000 coastal observation posts used the naked eye and binoculars to search for enemy German and Japanese aircraft. This program ended in 1944. 
  • The second Ground Observer Corps operated during the Cold War as an arm of the United States Air Force Civil Defense network which provided aircraft tracking and had more than 200,000 civilian volunteers. This program ended in 1958 with the introduction of the automated 1959 USAF radar network (SAGE) and the automated Army networks (Missile Master). 
  • The Dew Line or The Distant Early Warning Line, referred to in the film was an actual system of radar stations set up in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska, including also the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. It was set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning for a land based invasion. DEW Main and Auxiliary site operations ended in the 1990s becoming part of the North Warning System (NWS). It seems that whoever was behind this part of the film depicting The Dew Line had some detailed inside knowledge of the early warning system. 
  • CONAD or Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was the Cold War military organization of Army, Navy, and USAF air defense commands for the Continental United States. The primary purpose of continental air defense was to provide sufficient attack warning of a Soviet bomber air raid to ensure Strategic Air Command could launch a counterattack without being destroyed. 
Praying Mantis Fact File

Mantises are an order (Mantodea) of insects that contains over 2,400 species and about 430 genera in 15 families.

The praying mantis is named for the way its prominent front legs often seem to suggest that the insect is at prayer.

Mantises are;
  • Formidable predators. 
  • Green or brown and well camouflaged on the plants among which they live. 
  • Distributed worldwide in both temperate and (mostly) tropical habitats. 
  • Preyed on by vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, and birds, and by invertebrates such as spiders and ants. 

Mantises have;
  • Two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them. 
  • Triangular heads poised on a long elongated thorax. 
  • Stereo vision. 

  • Turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings. 
  • Locate their prey by sight. 
  • Lie in ambush or patiently stalk their prey. 
  • Use their front legs to snare their prey. 
  • Prey on moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects 
  • Sometimes eat others of their own kind such as during mating when the adult female may sometimes eat her mate just after and even during mating! 
  • Live for about a year 
The earliest mantis fossils are about 135 million years old! Yes, they were here long before us!

We will take back our world!

©Chris Christopoulos 2016


  1. I can't tell you how happy I was when I run into your blog, for SF features of the 50s have been my favorite cinema meal from my chidhood and youth, and I bear the firm opinion that they were -or should I say, "are", since I collect them voraciously in DVDs?- truly unique, and those "big" remakes made in this century, despite all the special effects parafernalia of these days, run certainly very short if one compares them with the simple and clean appeal of the original ones... Congratulations! Big hug!
    C. M. Federiciía_Federici

    1. Thank you Carlos. Despite the varying degrees of quality of production, there was certainly an earnest honesty about such films from that era. Watching those films shows how little these days is really new.

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