FILM (1958)


Rewind film: 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 August, 2013, 4:20pm

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers
Director: Nathan Hertz Juran

The short of it: a gigantic woman goes on a rampage in a California town staffed with inept police. Yes, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is the sort of glorious black-and-white B movie where the title doubles as a spoiler and the special effects are amusing rather than dazzling. (Think visible wires on flying objects and shoddy "giant" props.)

In the opening scene, a news anchor reports that there have been international sightings of a strange fireball in the sky. Cut to a car on Route 66 being driven by a woman. She spots a mysterious white orb, which causes her to swerve and scream in a most dramatic fashion. Then the vehicle won't start. A giant hand reaches out for her, but she manages to get away.

The woman, a hard-drinking socialite named Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes), has a problem bigger than this alien encounter: a philandering husband, Harry Archer (William Hudson). Harry's side piece is Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), the sort of brazen hussy who says delightful things such as: "The trouble with us is we both have the same disease - money." A relationship this toxic can only end with the wife morphing into a 50-foot giant clad in a bikini and causing sweet, sweet mayhem.

So how does a film like this get made? Producer Bernard Woolner, who owned drive-in movie theatres, knew exactly the sort of fare his audiences wanted. In 1956, Godzilla was a hit in the US, raking in US$2 million at the box office. Armed with a fantastic title, Woolner raised US$99,500 from Allied Artists. Attack was shot over eight days for US$89,000 and grossed US$480,000.

Nathan Juran, winner of an Academy Award for art direction for the John Ford film How Green was My Valley (1941), directed Attack. Film critic Richard Harland Smith writes: "Juran had agreed to direct The Brain from Planet Arous for union scale with the proviso that he be billed as Nathan Hertz, using his middle name. He insisted on the same credit for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, again fearing the material was subpar and likely to damage his status in the studio system."

Despite the terrible effects, flat characters and silly premise, Attack is never lethargic. It doesn't matter that it's not explained why there is a flying orb powered by diamonds, piloted by a 30-foot bald man.

Every scene drives towards the inevitable awesome climax: the appearance of a gigantic woman stomping about town, destroying all in her wake in the name of love. What's not to like?

Doretta Lau