Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 1954 American Universal monster horror feature film directed by Jack Arnold (It Came from Outer Space; Tarantula; The Incredible Shrinking Man) from a screenplay by Harry Essex (Man Made Monster; Octaman) and Arthur A. Ross. The producer was William Alland.
Richard Carlson (Tormented), Julia Adams, Richard Denning (The Black Scorpion), Antonio Moreno and Whit Bissell (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein). The eponymous creature was played by Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning in underwater scenes.
Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed and originally released in 3-D requiring polarized 3-D glasses, and subsequently reissued in the 1970s in the inferior anaglyph format (this version was released on home video by MCA Videocassette in 1980). It was one of the first Universal films filmed in 3-D (the first was It Came from Outer Space, which was released a year before).
It is considered a classic of the 1950s, and generated two sequels, Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us. Revenge of the Creature was also filmed and released in 3-D, in hopes of reviving the format. Chapman and Browning’s portrayal of Gill Man is considered to be one of the main Universal Monsters, and is often listed with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Phantom of the Opera.
Creature From The Black Lagoon is a quintessential monster movie and in many respects, Universal’s last hurrah from the Golden Age. The plot is fairly slim, which goes in its favour, a scientific research party re-awaking a hideous beast from a very long sleep and the requisite kidnapping of a damsel (Julie Adams).
The creature, unimaginatively called ‘Gillman’ is a classic of Hollywood design, both recognisable and alien.
Producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane (in which he played the reporter Thompson) in 1941 when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures in the Amazon river. Alland wrote story notes entitled “The Sea Monster” ten years later. His inspiration was Beauty and the Beast.
In December 1952, Maurice Zimm expanded this into a treatment, which Harry Essex (Octaman) and Arthur Ross rewrote as The Black Lagoon. Following the success of the 3-D film House of Wax in 1953, Jack Arnold was hired to direct the film in the same format.
The designer of the approved Gill-man was Disney animator Millicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed by makeup artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the creature’s conception. Jack Kevan, who worked on The Wizard of Oz and made prosthetics for amputees during World War II, created the bodysuit, while Chris Mueller Jr. sculpted the head.
Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man for the majority of the film shot at Universal City, California. The costume made it impossible for Chapman to sit for the 14 hours of each day that he wore it, and it overheated easily, so he stayed in the backlot’s lake, often requesting to be hosed down. He also could not see very well while wearing the headpiece, which caused him to scrape Julie Adams’ head against the wall when carrying her in the grotto scenes.
Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater shots, which were filmed by the second unit in Wakulla Springs, Florida. Many of the on-top of the water scenes were filmed at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida.
So recognisable is the Gillman design that it has appeared throughout popular culture ever since, in a variety of guises, from theme park rides, to pinball machines to comic books and toys. If the design of the creature was crucial then equal credit should also be given to the two actors who played him; Ricou Browning [whilst in the water – outrageously, uncredited] and Ben Chapman [on land].
Whilst Chapman never made any further impact in film or television, Browning, who had grown up performing in and planning shows in water parks, enjoyed further aquatic success, writing many episodes of dolphin caper Flipper. Even more remarkably, he is the director of the classic 70s trash-fest, Amazing Mr No-Legs.
Regular threats are made regarding prospective remakes of the film, fortunately these have yet to materialise.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
Cast and characters:
- Richard Carlson … Doctor David Reed
- Julie Adams … Kay Lawrence
- Richard Denning … Doctor Mark Williams
- Antonio Moreno … Doctor Carl Maia
- Nestor Paiva … Captain Lucas
- Whit Bissell … Doctor Edwin Thompson
- Bernie Gozier … Zee
- Henry A. Escalante … Chico
- Perry Lopez … Tomas
- Rodd Redwing … Luis
- Sydney Mason … Doctor Matos
- Ben Chapman … Gill-man [land]
- Ricou Browning … Gill-man [underwater]
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Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man for the majority of the scenes shot at Universal City, California. Many of the on-top of the water scenes were filmed at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida.
The film was released in the United States on March 5, 1954.