BY JOHN BILLINGER
When I was a kid, I watched a YouTube video titled “Top Ten Giant Movie Monsters.” It had all the basics like Godzilla and King Kong, but at the top of the list was a film featuring a monster that some say is the all-time worst monster design ever, The Giant Claw. The Giant Claw (1957) is about a pilot who while on a routine test flight, spots a UFO – which is later revealed to be a gigantic bird from outer space – that is shielded from all forms of combat by an anti-matter shield.
What? It makes sense to me.
This movie has all the makings of an average 1950s b movie. The subpar script, decent acting, decent directing, and decent enough special effec…oh wait. That’s the only item on the 1950s b movie checklist that can’t get marked off. This monster is one of the most laughable creature designs to have ever made its way into film.
The story behind our feathered friend is stop motion special effects master Ray Harryhausen was originally set to do the effects for the film. The reason why Harryhausen didn’t end up doing the effects in the movie seems split. For many years, the story I always heard was that producer Sam Katzman wanted to cut the costs, and he decided to commission an effects studio in Mexico instead to do the effects instead (with a budget of $50). However, I heard a different take from Gremlin’s director Joe Dante (who was a friend of Harryhausen’s) that Harryhausen himself turned it down. Either way, we got the film’s infamous effects.
I always enjoy showing people a picture of a bird from the movie. It always gets a laugh from someone. I mean seriously. You have to imagine what it was like back then to see it. Actually, you can get an idea. The cast had no idea what the bird looked like until they saw the film at the premiere. In fact, the posters didn’t show the head.
I can just imagine it. The first twenty minutes of the film are a slow build-up to what this monster looks like. You get at a quick blurry glimpse of it at the 4:30 mark. You hear the object being described as “something as big as a battleship ” (the film compares it to a battleship twelve times by the way). One character sees it off-screen at their farm and describes it as a demon. And then you get to see that the monster left a ginormous claw mark in a wheat field. It’s a great build-up.
And then you get the reveal scene for what this monster, and you’re thinking “Oh man what a build-up…hahaha, what the hell is that awful-looking thing? What was the budget for these effects? $20 and a pack of smokes?” That quote is what the audience of the premiere thought as well. When the bird appeared on the big screen, it was a laugh riot. So bad, that lead actor Jeff Morrow walked out, went to his apartment, and cracked open a couple of cold ones to deal with the embarrassment.
Speaking of Jeff Morrow, I have to say that every time I watch this film, I have to give Morrow some credit. He and costar Mara Corday do a pretty good job with the material. They had to have known that it wasn’t great, but they did do a really good job with the material Of course, they had already been in a few of the 1950s science fiction films up to this point, so they were practically used to it.
The rest of the actors are about what one would have expected from a 50s b movie. They range from decent to bland. So again, special props to Morrow and Corday for putting in the effort. And as mentioned earlier, none of the actors had any idea what the monster looked like, which lends itself to unintentional comedy, as the characters in the film take this thing so seriously, and yet you see the monster and it’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen in your life
Everything else about the film is very average for the 1950s, and actually, it is my opinion that had the bird effects in the film been done by a more talented effects technician (like Harryhausen), this film would probably not be as remembered as much today. Maybe it would still be remembered, but if anything the terrible bird design saved it from obscurity.
And the bird certainly has a unique design, and the puppeteers use it well. It’s certainly not convincing now or to the standards of the time, but if you honestly want a worse monster design from the 1950s, look no further than 1957’s “From Hell It Came” (more like “And to hell it can go!” as mentioned by the New York Times in their original review).
Overall, I think that this is a fun bad old movie. It certainly has the makings of a film that could be featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000. Why this film was never featured on there is anyone’s guess. Maybe in their new revival season, they’ll finally cover it. In any case, stay tuned for more weird films in the future…
If you have any films suggestions to torture me with, please email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org