Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

A somewhat predictable and formulaic sci-fi film which has enough action to hold audience interest for much of the 83 minutes viewing time.

Directed by Arnold Laven
Produced by Arthur Gardner, Jules V. Levy
Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Story by David Duncan
Music by Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cinematography: John D. Faure
Edited by Lester White
Production company: Gramercy Pictures, Inc.
Distributed by United Artists
Running time: 83 minutes
Budget: $200,000


Tim Holt as Lt. Cmdr. John "Twill" Twillinger
Audrey Dalton as Gail MacKenzie
Hans Conried as Dr. Jess Rogers
Harlan Warde as Lt. Robert "Clem" Clemens
Max Showalter as Dr. Tad Johns
Mimi Gibson as Sandy MacKenzie
Gordon Jones as Sheriff Josh Peters
Marjorie Stapp as Connie Blake
Dennis McCarthy as George Blake
Barbara Darrow as Jody Simms
Robert Beneveds as Seaman Morty Beatty
Charles Herbert as Boy with Morty's Cap
Jody McCrea as Seaman Fred Johnson
Wallace Earl as Sally as Eileen Harvey


Classic Sci-Fi Film Stew

Also known as The Monster That Challenged the World and in some quarters as The Jagged Edge and The Kraken. (“Release the Kraken!” Sorry, I had to say it!)

Read on for more.....

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

A low-budget well-paced sci-fi film with an interesting concept but doesn’t quite meet expectations

Directed by John Sherwood
Produced by Howard Christie
Screenplay by Norman Jolley, Robert M. Fresco
Story by Jack Arnold, Robert M. Fresco
Music by Henry Mancini, Irving Getz, Herman Stein
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Edited by Patrick McCormack
Production company: Universal-International
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Running time: 77 minutes


Grant Williams: Dave Miller
Lola Albright: Cathy Barrett
Les Tremayne: Martin Cochrane
Trevor Bardette: Professor Arthur Flanders
Phil Harvey as Ben Gilbert
William Flaherty: Police Chief Dan Corey
Harry Jackson: Dr. Steve Hendricks
Richard H. Cutting: Dr. E. J. Reynolds
Linda Scheley : Ginny Simpson
Claudia Bryar: Mrs. Simpson
Dean Cromer: Lead Highway Patrolman
Steve Darrell: Rancher Joe Higgins
William Schallert: Meteorologist
Troy Donahue! : Hank Jackson the Dynamite Expert
Paul Petersen: Bobby the Newsboy

Opening narration: Paul Frees



             10 cents                                                               November 10, 1957

This feature report is reproduced here with kind permission from Martin Cochrane, reporter and publisher of the San Angelo Sentinel. [Photos used are a combination of later reconstructions of events and pictures taken at the time of the incident in question.]

Martin Cochrane tells the story of how a strange meteorite crashed into the Southern California desert in July of this year and exploded into a multitude of black fragments. 

The strange part of this story is how those fragments when exposed to water, grew to gigantic proportions. Not only that, but the fragments caused some of the inhabitants of a small town to gradually petrify and die.

The story that you are about to read will show just how close humanity came to having its very existence threatened by a seemingly unstoppable malevolent monstrous monolithic force visited upon our planet from the mysterious limitless reaches of outer space……

Spoilers follow below…..

San Angelo Sentinel
March of The Monolith Monsters!

By Martin Cochrane

“From time immemorial the Earth has been bombarded by objects from outer space; bits and pieces of the universe piercing our atmosphere in an invasion that never ends.

“Meteors, the shooting stars on which so many earthly wishes have been born - of the thousands that plummet toward us, the greater part are destroyed in a fiery flash as they strike the layers of air that encircle us. Only a small percentage survives. Most of these fall into the water which covers two-thirds of our world, but from time to time, from the beginning of time, a very few meteors have struck the crust of the Earth and formed craters - craters of all sizes, sought after and poured over by scientists of all nations for the priceless knowledge buried within them.

“In every moment of every day they come from planets belonging to stars whose dying light is too far away to be seen. From infinity they come -


For it was on one fateful night in July of this year that a “ strange calling card from the limitless reaches of space; Its substance unknown, its secrets unexplored,” lay “dormant in the night - waiting!”

The calamity that befell our own small corner of the world is by now all too well known to most of you. What may not be known are the details that combined to make up a disaster that we could well have been unable to prevent from spreading uncontrollably across the entire face of the earth!

These details have been pieced together from my own personal observations and experiences, as well as from numerous eye-witness accounts.

“It's been gathering the secrets of time and space for billions of years.” 

In the desert region of San Angelo, California, a huge meteorite crashed and exploded, peppering a wide area with hundreds of black fragments. Soon after, Federal geologist Ben Gilbert brought a strange black rock from the area back to his office, where he and yours truly examined it but were unable to determine the origin of this mysterious celestial material that had been sprinkled on to the earth from above.

It turned out that later that night, a strong wind must have blown a bottle of water onto the rock, causing it to bubble and smoulder in some kind of a chemical reaction, the results of which were soon to become all too apparent.

The next day, the head of San Angelo's district geological office, Dave Miller, returned to town from a business trip only to discover that the office had been destroyed by large black rock fragments. Tragically, he also found Ben dead, in a rock-hard, petrified sculptured statue-like state.

At the time, Dave's girlfriend, schoolteacher Cathy Barrett, had taken her students on a desert field trip where one of the youngsters, Ginny Simpson found a piece of the black rock which she took home and washed in a large tub outside her family's farmhouse. It would prove to be a fateful act with dire consequences for the little girl and her family.

Later back in town, Doctor E. J. Reynolds performed an autopsy on Ben, but he was unable to explain Ben's condition. He then informed Dave and Police Chief Dan Corey that the body would be shipped to a specialist.

When I returned to the demolished office with Dave, he noticed that the large rock fragments were of the same kind as the piece of black rock Ben had been examining. Cathy also recognized the rock fragments and joined Dave and I as we headed out to the Simpson farm.

When we got to the farmhouse, we were confronted by a shocking scene of destruction, with the farmhouse in ruins under a pile of the black rocks. Even worse than that, we came across the dead bodies of young Ginny's parents and the poor girl herself enveloped in a psychological protective catatonic cocoon.

We quickly rushed Ginny to Dr. Steve Hendricks at the California Medical Research Institute in Los Angeles. We soon learnt that the girl was gradually turning to stone and that any chance of her surviving would depend on having the black rock identified within eight hours. It was heartbreaking seeing Ginny placed in the iron lung machine in order to keep her alive and breathing. She didn’t ask for any of this to happen.

As for identifying the black rock, Dave brought a fragment of it to his old college professor, Arthur Flanders, who identified it as having likely come from a meteorite.

Dave and Prof Flanders headed out to the Simpson farm, where Flanders noticed a discoloration in the ground which lead him to conclude that the black rock was draining silicon from whatever it came into contact with, including human beings! 

Tests performed on the substance determined that it was silicon which is present in humans only as a trace element. It is thought that silicon in the human body helps to maintain flexibility of human tissue. In an interview after the events described in this article, Dave Miller elaborated on the makeup of the substance: “With the exception of a trace of iron-phosphate - not enough to mention - they're all silicates… feldspar, pyroxene, almost all the olivine group, flint - almost solid silica, little bits of it slapped together in such a way that it shouldn't even exist.” 

This piece of knowledge about meteorite's absorption of silicon flicked on a switch that helped to shed light on the cause of Ben’s and Ginny’s parents’ deaths, as well as Ginny’s catatonic state and the creeping petrification of her body.

Knowledge of the likely cause also gave some hope as to determining the likely cure. With this end in view, Dr. Steve Hendricks managed to prepare a silicon solution injection which was soon administered to the young patient before she could succumb to her final fossilized fate.

Dave and Prof Flanders headed out to the desert, where a breadcrumb trail of black rock fragments led them to a huge meteorite. Flanders theorised that the meteorite's atomic structure had been drastically altered by the intense heat of friction as it entered the earth’s atmosphere. In the words of the professor during an interview I conducted with him: “You've got to remember….when this hit our atmosphere, it burned at such a fantastic temperature, that its metal-bearing compounds could have been altered - left ready to activate, to grow!”

Later back at the lab, with a storm gradually building in intensity, Dave and Arthur Flanders tried to figure out what caused the rock to grow. Suddenly, a piece of rock fell into the sink and began to react by bubbling when hot coffee was poured on to it. This led Dave and Flanders to determine that it was in fact water that was the cause of the rock’s growth.

“Each one that shatters will make a hundred more.”

With rain falling outside, Dave and Flanders headed out to the desert yet again, and were confronted by the sight of small fragments of black rock being pelted with rain water causing them to form into massive black malevolent monoliths that rose from the earth before crashing back onto the ground and shattering into hundreds of pieces. Each new fragment then repeated the process becoming yet another monolith. Together, the Monoliths march would’ve taken them right through San Angelo and from there, who would know? 

“Evacuate? The entire town?”

There was nothing left to do but make preparations to evacuate San Angelo. Once notified of the emergency, the governor declared a state of emergency in the San Angelo area.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Ginny seemed to be recovering which led Dave to believe that there was something in the silicon solution that would stop the rock fragments' growth.

Tragically, more locals suffering the effects of petrification were being rushed to hospital. With time running out and the telephone and electricity cut off, the monster rocks continued to grow and advance inexorably by soaking up water from the saturated soil.

With the normal lines of communication cut, Dave and Dan made good use of me to gather up as many paperboys as possible to let the town’s residents know what was going on.

An eureka moment suddenly arrived when Dave and Arthur Flanders realized that the monoliths’ growth and progress could be checked with a simple saline solution, which formed a part of Steve's silicon formula that was used on Ginny. Good old salt! And who said it was bad for you?

With that in mind, Dave hit on the idea of dynamiting the local dam to release huge quantities of water that would flood the salt flats, thereby creating an enormous amount of the required saline solution.

“Unless we can stop them, they'll spread over the whole countryside.” 

As it was imperative that the monoliths be halted at the canyon edge or all would have been lost, Dave chose to disregard the governor’s concerns about dynamiting the dam and proceeded to set up dynamite charges around the dam itself.

There were doubts as to the plan’s likelihood of succeeding, but I knew the figures were right. After all, “if it's dull or statistical, I've written about it!”

With so little time left, the dynamite was detonated. We all stood there awestruck and with some fear and trepidation as a huge inundation of water washed over the salt deposits at the canyon's edge and finally came into contact with the monoliths.

Still rooted to the spot, we watched as the Monoliths’ growth was finally brought to a halt and the last of the mysterious marauding megaliths succumbed to a final salty saturation.

Those salt flats, were once considered to be "Mother Nature's worst mistake.” We knew it “used to be an ocean bed. Now, that ocean knew that the middle of a desert was a pretty silly place for it to be, so it just dried up and went away.” Could there have been some kind of an intelligence at work that knew that something we believed didn’t belong would turn out to be our salvation?


[NB: Words in inverted commas are lines taken directly from the film]

Points of Interest

The Monolith Monsters is one of the few classic sci-fi movies that has stayed vividly in my memory since I first saw it some 55 years ago. I must admit though that time has altered my view of the film. As a kid, I was absolutely awestruck by what I saw on the screen. As an adult, I feel somewhat disappointed at seeing a film hampered by stilted characters, ordinary dialogue and enormous plot holes.

What I do still find impressive about the Monolith Monsters is the film’s interesting premise in which we have giant crystalline rocks that multiply when in contact with water, which cause people to turn to stone and which can potentially threaten the entire world.

What is also impressive about the film is its brisk and efficient pace which manages to sustain the audience’s interest throughout.

Of particular note were the special effects created under the supervision of Clifford Stine. Despite the film’s modest budget, some of the effects were impressive for the time.

Grant Williams, star of The Incredible Shrinking Man, didn’t seem to have as much to work with in this film as a leading male actor. In terms of on-screen presence, it was hard to believe it was the same actor.

Lola Albright of Peyton Place fame seemed to spend a lot of her time wondering (as many of us probably did) why she was there, apart from functioning as love-interest and eye-candy.

Les Tremayne who plays Martin Cochrane also had the role of the general in War of the Worlds (1953) and was the opening narrator of Forbidden Planet (1956)

The movie was adapted from a story called "Monolith" co-written by Robert Fresco and Jack Arnold. who also directed its lead actor, Grant Williams, in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Many of the exterior scenes were filmed in the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California, while most of the exteriors of downtown San Angelo were shot on Universal's back lot. 

The “California Medical Research Institute" facility also featured in Universal's classic sci fi film, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957).

The meteor crash in the film's opening sequence consisted of alternate takes from Universal's sci-fi classic, It Came from Outer Space (1953).

End Note 

The premise of The Monolith Monsters has led me to wonder about the many seemingly monolithic structures and processes that individual human beings and communities are confronted with. There are certain ideologies, aspects of technology, intrusions into people’s privacy, governance by centralised bureaucracies, movements toward globalisation, influence of powerful multinational corporations and so on which tend to dwarf and dominate the lives of individuals and communities.

It is no wonder that under the perceived crushing weight of such modern-day monolithic monsters, people and communities will try to react to, push back and halt the inexorable encroachment into their lives. For better or (far too often) for worse this why we end up with the likes of President Donald Trump; Brexit; the allure of far right wing and so-called anti-Establishment populist political movements; much of the world flaking off back into tribal nation-states and a yearning to hide behind impenetrable walls safe from the big black monsters crashing down on our heads. But just watch out for those little fragments that with a bit of watering will assuredly grow into a new set of Monolithic Monsters!

This is also why it might be a good idea for a remake of The Monolith Monsters which if handled well could be of relevance to modern day audiences. What do you think?

Meteor Fact-File

“Dave, if it is a meteorite, chances are it's been hurtling around our universe for a good many centuries.”

  • The word “meteor” comes from a Greek word that means suspended in the air. 
  • If you looked up at the sky at night and see a streak of light or ‘shooting star’ what you’ll be witnessing is a meteor
  • Meteoroids are small rocks or bits of debris in our solar system that may be ejected from comets as they move in their orbits about the sun. 
  • They can be the size of dust particles through to rocky objects 10 metres in diameter. If they are any larger, they are called asteroids
  • The shooting star you might see in the night sky is a meteoroid that burns up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. 
  • The Earth’s atmosphere experiences millions of such objects every day. 
  • If that meteoroid happens to survive falling through the Earth’s atmosphere and collides with the Earth’s surface it is known as a meteorite
  • Around 500 meteorites reach the Earth’s surface every year. 
  • It has been estimated that perhaps up to 10,000 tons of meteors fall on the Earth each day, most no bigger than a speck of dust. 
  • The fastest meteoroids travel through the solar system at a speed of around 42 kilometres (26 miles) per second. 
  • Some meteoroids fly on a path that goes into the Earth’s atmosphere and then back out again. These are called Earth-grazing fireballs
  • Sometimes many meteors occur in a relatively short space of time in the same part of the sky when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid. This is called a meteor shower
  • Roughly 30 meteor showers occur each year that are visible to observers on Earth. 
  • The Perseid meteor shower, which occurs each year in August, was first observed about 2000 years ago and recorded by the ancient Chinese. 
  • Meteors can be hazardous to spacecraft. The International Space Station has shielding up to an inch thick to protect it from meteors. 
  • Earth's moon, Mercury and even Mars are covered with impact craters as (unlike our planet) they don't have enough atmosphere to protect them against meteor and asteroid impacts. 
  • It is believed that about 65 million years ago Dinosaurs became extinct due to an 8 mile long meteor striking the Earth.

©Chris Christopoulos 2016