The Giant Claw (1957)

“Once, the world was big and no man in his lifetime could circle it. Through the centuries, science has made man’s life bigger and the world smaller. Now, the farthest corner of her Earth is as close as a push-button and time has lost all meaning as man-made devices spread faster than sound itself.”

The clash of lofty sci-fi pondering & dirt cheap cinematic craft can be a rewarding comedic gem when found in the right 1950s drive-in pictures. For every two thousand forgettable B-movies of the drive-in era, there’s a Plan 9 from Outer Space or Cat-Women of the Moon waiting to remind you that drive-in schlock can be a kind of high art under the right circumstances. I found that reminder in the comedically absurd creature feature The Giant Claw. Although the film shared a double bill with the disappointing earthquake thriller mediocrity The Night the World Exploded & was (understandably) slammed by critics upon its release, The Giant Claw is a perfect little B-movie gem, an efficient reminder of why throwaway genre trash from half a century ago is still worth digging through. Its creature design is hideous, its dialogue is inane, and its lofty sci-fi ideas aren’t worth even the paper they’re scribbled on, but The Giant Claw is the rare discarded horror schlock that achieves a kind of sublime stupidity that can’t easily be found in its peers.

Much like its marquee-mate The Night the World Exploded, The Giant Claw opens with an abundance of voiceover narration & stock footage. The narrator barrels through swaths of dialogue, as if reciting exposition for a novel, providing unnecessary details right down to weather report (“sky: cloudy, overcast”). Its first few sequences where a “UFO,” described only as a “flying battleship,” disrupts military flight & disappears a few fighter jets threaten the exact kind of genre film dreck The Giant Claw stands head & shoulders above. It turns this trajectory around by introducing one of the ugliest monster puppets ever created in cinema: La Carcaña, a kaiju-sized hybrid of a turkey & a vulture. I swear the movie knows exactly how idiotic the puppet looks too. Whether it’s photobombing cameras mounted to weather balloons or chomping parachuting pilots out of the sky with a decisive crunch of the beak, the bird who rocks the titular giant claw is an idiotic wonder. Contemporary critics may have complained about the visible strings & rear projection that made it fly or the cheapness of the miniature toy trains & cityscape sets it destroyed, but the truth is that La Carcaña is too good for this world. We don’t deserve it.

There’s an inevitable romantic plotline at the center of this picture, one involving a pilot & a scientist, but it isn’t especially interesting outside its dated sex politics. Scenes where they share their first kiss while the woman is sleeping or the way she, the scientist, serves coffee & sandwiches to the boys at the airfield are certainly alarming. A lot of the dialogue is anchored to that pair’s romantic bickering, but that ultimately does not matter. Adam’s Rib this is not. What’s much more interesting (and amusing) are the sci-fi theories insanely floated while discussing the origins & vulnerabilities of the giant killer bird. After discovering that the bird is protected by an invisible anti-matter force field, it’s proclaimed, “That bird is extraterrestrial. It comes from outer space, some godforsaken anti-matter galaxy millions & millions of light-years from the Earth. No other explanation is possible.” The Giant Claw is packed with enough (flat) humor in its dialogue to let you know it’s self-aware of its own goofy quality. The movie is definitely more Gamera than Godzilla, but its outright jokes are painfully hacky, with lines like “I’ll never call my mother in law an old crow again!” This does not matter. In fact, it anti-matters.

Any one blessed shot of the big, dumb bird puppet that terrorizes its unfunny human foes is worth suffering through a thousand failed one-liners. I love its big, dumb, beautiful face and its foes’ Plan 9-type schemes to destroy its anti-matter shields with a concentrated stream of “masic atoms” is just icing on the cake. I usually avoid recommending people watch films from a “It’s so bad it’s good” perspective, but even The Giant Claw seems to think that of itself. It’s a light-in-tone creature feature that boasts the most delightfully dumb-looking creature design around. Any & all other concerns are secondary at best when gazing upon that vulture-turkey’s idiotic magnificence.

-Brandon Ledet

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