Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 1954 American science fiction horror film directed by Jack Arnold (It Came from Outer Space; Tarantula; The Incredible Shrinking Man) from a screenplay written by Harry Essex (Man Made Monster; Octaman) and Arthur A. Ross. The producer was William Alland.
The Universal-International production stars 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 ‘Gill-Man’ 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 fourteen 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 and MANIA
“Black Lagoon features a supremely creative title monster, assured direction from Arnold, and a superior musical score. The lovingly-shot cinematography owes a debt to William Snyder, while the underwater sequences are beautifully filmed and clearly inspired Steven Spielberg’s breakout blockbuster Jaws two decades later.” The Terror Trap
“Imbued with great atmosphere by director Jack Arnold, the film is genuinely frightening, but also elicits a certain amount of pathos for the creature, reminiscent of that that goes out to the unfortunate King Kong.” TV Guide
“Aside from its tremendous importance to the horror genre, Black Lagoon is, in and of itself, a superb film. Reams of pages have been written about its flawlessly designed and executed monster suit. The film also boasts a fine cast of ‘50s genre stalwarts and an imposing female presence in Julie Adams. But the real stars of Black Lagoon are its cinematographers William E. Snyder, who handled the topside photography, and the great “Scotty Welbourne, who shot and co-directed the films memorable underwater scenes.” Steve Kronenberg, Universal Terrors 1951 – 1953: Eight Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Films
“[Jack Arnold] …nicely balances the romance stuff between Richard Carlson and Julia Adams with the Creature attacks and keeps the flick chugging along at a steady clip. The underwater sequences are excellent too. Usually, a movie gets bogged down whenever there are too many scuba diving scenes (like in Thunderball), but here, the underwater stuff is almost as good as the scenes on land.” The Video Vacuum
“Creature from the Black Lagoon is a classic horror film in every sense of the words. It’s not a cliche to say they just don’t make films like this anymore. Films with monsters that you care about and thought is put into what and who they are. If like me you are only now just watching some of these great older horror films, then put this top of your list.” Wight Blood
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The film was released in the United States on March 5th 1954.