Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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General Buskirk: Three men reported they saw something. Two of them are now dead.
Mitch MacAfee: That makes me Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in a one-man Bird Watcher's Society!
1957's The Giant Claw is one of the most entertaining, laughably awful creature feature flicks from the 1950s. It could have very easily been a better than average creature feature however. The script is passable, (barring a few overwrought lines here and there) the acting decent, the direction pretty good too.
So what happened? Why does it all come crashing down and instead of being an above average campy 50s horror it's one of the worst? Special effects are the big problem here. Read on.
Jeff Morrow plays a pilot named Mitch engaged in a radar test flight and spots a UFO. Jets try to find it, and one goes missing. Then a gigantic bird supposedly from an anti-matter galaxy makes its appearance. At first it's out of focus and blurry-but not for long.
Mitch, along with his mathematician girlfriend Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), Dr. Karol Noymann (Edgar Barrier), and generals Considine (Morris Ankrum) and Van Buskirk (Robert Shane), try to figure out a way to defeat the invincible enemy.
Of course for a while they don't actually believe Mitch.
Mitch: Now, I don't care if that bird came from outer space or Upper Saddle River, New Jersey; it's still made of flesh and blood - of some sort - and vulnerable to bullets and bombs.
Maj. Bergen: By the time I get through with you, Mr. Electronics Engineer, you'll be lucky if they let you test batteries for flashlights.
The climax takes place in New York City as the Bird attacks the Empire State Building and the Unite Nations. It's actually well directed by Fred F. Sears, but as I stated earlier what makes this one so baaad it's good is the monster.
To save money the notoriously cheap producer Sam Katzman decided to use a special effects house in Mexico. They created a giant bird puppet creature that is absolutely laughable. The monster looks like an extremely cheap puppet you might see on a early 1950s local children's television show. It wasn't built well and only a few parts of it move at all, Of course it's suspended by strings and to hide how poor the special effects are, the camera moves in for a close up of its head, revealing cheap construction in even more detail. When it is supposed to actually attack, swoop down on people etc. it goes out of focus turning into a blur and then the camera gives us a monster bird perspective. In some cases this means we zoom closer toward an obvious common toy you could buy at the department store in the mid 50s.
So when people point at the thing and scream in horror.. we gotta laugh at them for being afraid of the puppet bird thing. No matter how much you want to suspend disbelief and tell yourself that it was made very cheaply and you can overlook the cheesy special effect-it is simply impossible. And then you start paying a little more attention to the ridiculous theories of where the bird came from (an anti-matter galaxy?). Hey if they somehow figured that out, and allowed for the bird to somehow defy the laws of physics and have some kind of very specific kind of Anti-matter force field; then how come they don't see the strings or how silly the thing looks?
Note: Jeff Morrow who starred in some memorable and much better b movies in the 50s like This Island Earth; began his career working on television in the very early 1950s. Unfortunately television actors were considered a lesser sort of talent and Morrow never escaped the stigma of television. He probably didn't fret too much about not having an impressive movie career however as he was very busy being a character actor on lots of television series well into the 1970s. Morrow started as a New York Stage Actor in the late 1920s (as Irving Morrow). Later in life he worked as an illustrator, taking on the occasional acting role (in the 70s and 80s).
He was interviewed and talked about The Giant Claw on a few occasions:
Jeff Morrow: You know how films are made. While we were making the movie we had no idea what the monster actually looked like. The producers promised us they were spending some money on the special effects and everything was going to be first class. The director (Fred F. Sears) told us where to look. "Okay now, there's the giant bird, it's coming at you, you are scared to death. Use your imagination.' The first time any of us saw the finished movie was the night of the premiere and the audience couldn't stop laughing. It was humiliating. We really expected the movie to be a first class production. We looked like idiots up there on the screen and the audience was laughing AT us. They told us later they ran out of money and couldn't afford anything but the cheap puppet. It was terrible. I was never so embarrassed in my whole life."
The acting, and direction of this fairly standard formula 50s creature feature offering are better than average. However, the special effects are so ridiculously awful and the monster so laugh out loud funny, The Giant Claw becomes a so baad it is good treat for campy movie lovers.
The four stars are for its entertainment value, not its quality.
You have to see it to believe it.. but you'll laugh a lot, so enjoy.
Mitch any last words on the matter?
Mitch: You keep your shirt on and I'll go get my pants on.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening