Type search terms and hit "Enter"
Trailers
From Hell.com

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

by Glenn Erickson Dec 03, 2022

Only once in a generation do we behold a classic such as this!  The ’embiggened’ adventures of Nancy Archer lack technical sophistication, but good direction and a very direct story — female revenge writ large — grab us every time. Let the absurdities pile up, because Allison Hayes cuts a mean fifty-foot figure in that white two-piece, and saucy Yvette Vickers really warms up the clientele down at Tony’s place. It’s a terrific piece of late ’50s exploitation anti-art. The fantastic Reynold Brown poster is a key expression of the monsterrific worldview.


Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Blu-ray
Warner Archive Collection
1958 / B&W / 1:85 widescreen / 65 min. / Available at Amazon.com / General site WAC-Amazon / Street Date December 6, 2022 / 21.99
Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers, Roy Gordon, George Douglas, Ken Terrell, Otto Waldis, Eileene Stevens, Michael Ross, Frank Chase, Nelson Leigh, .
Cinematography: Jacques Marquette
Film Editor: Edward Mann
Original Music: Ronald Stein
Written by Mark Hanna
Produced by Jacques Marquette, Bernard Woolner
Directed by
Nathan Hertz

Alas, it’s time to retire the old 2007 WB ‘Cult Camp Classics’ DVD set Sci-Fi Thrillers. I remember spinning all three films for my (tolerant) wife. She thought The Giant Behemoth less than thrilling and showed little patience for Queen of Outer Space. . . but Attack of the 50 Foot Woman had something. Despite its renown as a prime example of a ‘bad monster movie,’ it has always held our attention. Much of what happens to the crude characters is beyond absurd, but the personal conflicts in Mark Hanna’s screenplay are completely understandable, even identifiable.

The 50-foot woman’s name is Nancy Archer. Her personal problems made full sense to a ’50s audience sympathetic with the heartbreak of June Allyson and Jane Wyman: when the marriage doesn’t work, the marriage just doesn’t work. Allison Hayes’s claims of seeing an alien spaceship and a bald giant sound like an attention-getting mechanism for a hysteria-prone woman whose worthless husband is running around with a barroom tramp. What would a Freudian headshrinker have to say about Nancy and the alien’s shared interest in her treasured jewel, The Star of India?

 

Does Attack of the 50 Foot Woman deserve its reputation as a hopeless schlock epic?  Long ago it was the kind of late-night TV log entry that we’d check out because the title was so crazy. The special effects are indeed feeble: this was one of the first movies in which we ‘learned by viewing’ that there’s a big difference between Ray Harryhausen and weak ‘anything goes’ superimpositions. In true low-end ’50s fashion, viewers never see the sensational visuals depicted in Reynold Brown’s classic one-sheet poster. The actual rampage doesn’t get started until the finale, with only ten minutes of screen time left.

Nancy Archer begins Attack at 5 feet 8 inches, the height of lovely actress Allison Hayes, by all accounts a capable player in every respect. After a number of showgirl-type parts, Hayes found some decent TV work. In features she was soon typecast in horror. Roger Corman starred Allison in his western Gunslinger and then as an evil witch for his eccentric The Undead . . . which led to a steady diet of roles that ambitious actresses normally avoided: Zombies of Mora Tau (a greedy man-killer), The Unearthly (a guinea pig for a mad scientist), The Disembodied (a murderous wife). Although she appeared in westerns and private eye shows on TV, her lasting fame will always be connected to horror items like The Hypnotic Eye, as a ‘statuesque beauty’  *   who connives in the mutilation of innocent women. After parts like that, one just isn’t offered the Joanne Woodward roles.

 

Bad movie?  Where?  This potboiler has three very memorable characters.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman certainly gives Ms. Hayes a good showcase. Spoiled heiress Nancy Archer lives in what a newscaster describes as a desert palace. The furnishings in this ‘palace’ are not at all impressive; Nancy hangs un-framed pictures on her walls. She’s just an honest loving gal, frustrated by the fact that her no-good, gold digging excuse for a husband ignores her. Harry Archer is played by William Hudson, a busy day player for whom Attack is a standout role. After witnessing Harry’s greedy insincerity for an hour, we’re more than ready to see the slimeball get his just desserts.

Harry spends his time in Tony’s bar, tom-catting with the town tramp. The toothy blonde Honey Parker is forever whining for him to ditch Nancy — after he finds a way to keep the old cow’s money. Yvette Vickers cultivated her ‘too hot to handle’ aura in pictures with sordid titles like Reform School Girl, Short Cut to Hell and Juvenile Jungle. Her cult reputation was formed in this picture and the next year’s Attack of the Giant Leeches, a thriller that devotes a big chunk of its first act to ogling Vickers’ shanty-town bad girl. Here in 50 Foot Woman Vickers has real scenes to play as Honey Parker. She and William Hudson generate decent heat, necking in a booth at Tony’s bar. We can’t wait for the payoff to all this deceit — we want Giant Nancy to squeeze into her sailcloth bikini and take sweet revenge.

 

Crazed with drink and jealousy, Nancy goes on mad nighttime drives in her fancy Chrysler convertible (boy, that car seemed BIG when I was a kid). She almost collides with a strange flying globe and is scared witless by a giant alien, a bald guy wearing an off-the-rack Medieval tunic from Western Costume. She runs back to town barefoot, and nobody believes her story. Nancy was once institutionalized, and Harry sees her behavior as justification to have her put away again, permanently. He takes Nancy back to the desert, where they together encounter the glowing sphere. Harry flees in panic, while poor Nancy is found later on her own roof with radiation burns, and her precious ‘Star of India’ diamond missing. The ever-scheming Harry sneaks into Nancy’s sickroom with the intention of committing a medication overdose murder . . . but gets a big surprise.

Attack’s crazy premise is so strong that nothing defeats it — not the low budget and not the technically pathetic special effects. We ought to ask ourselves if higher-quality visuals are really needed. Would the show really be improved?  There’s no need to detail the inadequate miniatures and sad superimpositions, the poor matching, etc. We gasp at some of the crude opticals, as when a giant hand picking up a car takes the entire background of the scene with it. The same wince-inducing ‘special’ effect can also be seen in Bert Gordon’s The Cyclops.

 

Adding to the general air of nonsensical mirth is perhaps the worst ‘giant body part’ prop ever, a big Nancy Archer hand. It’s right there full-frame, in all its wrinkly-plastic glory. We almost expect a Tex Avery signboard to slide onscreen, saying, ‘Pretty darn fake, huh?’

The idea was to sell movie tickets, not create great art.

The filmmakers know they can’t deliver photo-real effects . . . and they also know they don’t need to. Their show has what it needs to succeed as a commercial item in the movie market of 1958. The premise promises a ‘mate’ for Bert Gordon’s recent A.I.P. winner The Amazing Colossal Man. The sexy Reynold Brown poster has crossover appeal, to both Sci-fi/monster fans and the girlie-show crowd. It’s a shoo-in for drive-in bookings, where the real action played out in the back seats of cars, and what was happening on screen was of secondary importance.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman achieves its own brand of tacky-lurid camp appeal without benefit of Dynamation splendors. Sure, we can see right through almost every shot with a giant or a spaceship. We matinee popcorn munchers were a forgiving bunch, even if some movies were met with howls of derision. Let’s give the concept a little help . . . is the giant woman perhaps see-through on purpose?  Maybe these aliens convert things and people into semi-transparent anti-matter!

Or something like that.

 

The Woolner Brothers owned drive-in theaters before expanding into film production. They had been tapping the exploitation double-bill release formula just as early as American-International, partnering with Roger Corman for a pair of micro-budgeted westerns. The ambitious cinematographer Jacques Marquette had filmed The Brain from Planet Arous and had directed his own picture  Teenage Monster before helping the Woolners put Attack together. Fast and efficient, Marquette would also work for Roger Corman — he shot all of Corman’s ‘Puerto Rico trilogy’.

The Pro ace in the deck.

But the key player seems to have been director Nathan Juran, an Oscar-winning art director (How Green Was My Valley) who became a director at Universal just as the studio system was shutting down. He likely connected with Roger Corman when directing the ultra-low budget Highway Dragnet, and after some TV work directed his first sci-fi film, the stock footage-heavy The Deadly Mantis. It may have not been Juran’s intention, but his notable subsequent work was with fantastic subject matter, including three of the best Ray Harryhausen pictures.

 

Nathan Juran had himself billed as ‘Nathan Hertz’ for both The Brain from Planet Arous and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Juran couldn’t live those movies down, yet we make the case that his direction on both is actually very good. Faced with the requirement to shoot fast, with as few angles and takes as possible, Juran found creative ways to keep the frame alive. We never get the idea that the camera has been planted in one spot, as in the cinematically D.O.A. Teenage Monster. The dialogue scenes are all professionally staged, and Juran insures that his players come off with a degree of class, even Frank Chase’s goofy deputy. Juran delivers Yvette Vickers’ best scene, her sexy bar dance. It must have inspired her casting as Paul Newman’s one-night-stand bar pickup in the classic Hud.

 

No art director is credited, which leads us to assume that Nathan Juran had a big hand in the film’s overall design. Working with a minimum of resources, he succeeds in giving the interior of the alien spaceship some visual interest. He recycles his gag of filming a face through distorting glass, a la John Agar in Arous. Marquette may have handled all the second-unit footage of cars on roads, etc., material that is equally competent.

We’d argue that the filmmakers knew they were delivering a picture that allowed the audience to laugh at it as well as with it. Did they have what would later be called a Camp Sensibility?  Much of Mark Hanna’s dialogue is delivered tongue in cheek; can we assume it was written that way as well?

“Now you pulled a boner tonight and you know it.”

“What do you want me to do, put salt on her tail?”

And of course, the immortal exchange

“She’ll tear up the whole town until she finds Harry.”
– – – “And then she’ll tear up Harry.”

What makes Attack of the 50 Foot Woman so entertaining?  The film seems aware that its audience will be thinking, ‘what kind of nonsense is this?’ even as it plays surprisingly well. The soap opera love triangle actually works, and Ms. Hayes’ murderous stroll as the Amazing Colossal Woman has an air of dignity outraged. And that poster!  We don’t mind praising it again.

Can’t leave the discussion without mentioning the song by The Tubes that hijacks this movie’s title:

 

“Attack of the fifty foot woman! / Our Love was at an end”
“All she did / To get her kicks / Was step on all the men.”
 


The matte for Nancy’s head and arm slightly overlaps the telephone pole.
Not the best match with the full-sized giant hand prop on the left . . .
 

The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a fine rendering of this short-but-sweet taste of drive-in nonsense. It was released concurrently with cultural milestones like Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Hula Hoop. The flawless HD image testifies to the care taken with film elements retained in the Allied Artists (formerly Monogram) vault. There’s nothing amateurish about the show’s principal photography — Jacques Marquette could have used a reel of Attack to help him secure TV gigs. Likewise, Ronald Stein’s score is one of his best, avoiding the blaring bombast of Albert Glasser (which we like too).

Posing for poster art? 

The original widescreen aspect ratio is correct, even if the vast majority of Attack’s fans only saw it flat on TV, until the arrival of the 2007 DVD. Just for historical purposes, we hope that some of the 16mm television prints have been retained. Allied Artists released a number of exploitation pix only 60-65 minutes in length. Exhibitors loved double bills with such a brief ‘turnaround time’ … the extra showings brought in more patrons, with added breaks to keep the concession counter hopping.

TV bookers needed slightly longer movies to fit 90 minute air slots, with room for commercials. Later on, Roger Corman shot ‘TV filler’ scenes to extend some of his shorter ‘The Filmgroup’ productions. Allied Artists had even cheaper more creative solutions to the problem. On TV, Attack began with a lo-o-o-ng, slo-o-w text crawl, followed by a teaser-preview of the entire scene in which the sheriff and the Archers’ butler (George Douglas & Ken Terrell) investigate the inside of the alien sphere.

The third ‘stretch’ method was even more extreme. Allied Artists extended scenes of driving and action by step-printing them, adding a frame for every two to stretch out the running time (by what, 30%?). The scenes looked very odd on TV, like something was wrong with the video transmission, or the choppy look of bad PAL to NTSC transfers. Film collector Joe Dante has remarked on his frustration when collecting these Allied Artists films on 16mm — the extraneous text crawls and repeated scenes could be cut off, but not the step-printed ‘stretched’ scenes. I wish samples of the TV versions were more readily available, just as a reminder of those incredibly boring text crawls.

The WAC disc repeats the extras from the DVD. A trailer is present. Very welcome is Tom Weaver’s friendly commentary, a full-length interview with actress Yvette Vickers, recorded before her untimely end. Untimely is right — investigators could surmise only that Ms. Vickers had probably died in 2010.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good!
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio commentary with Tom Weaver interviewing Yvette Vickers; theatrical trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English & French (feature only)

Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
November 30, 2022
(6844atta)

*   ‘Statuesque’ is a word that polite (repressed?) male reviewers employ when discussing actresses that, at least in advertising material, seem to be bodies first and performers second. Ms. Hayes was one of dozens of actresses that we remember in provocative poses — her ‘witch dress’ in The Undead was practically a sex manual for 9-year olds.CINESAVANT

Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
Visit CineSavant’s Main Column Page
Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail:
cinesavant@gmail.com

Text © Copyright 2022 Glenn Erickson

Here’s Joe Dante on Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman:

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.