IEver since digital media entered our living rooms through the introduction of laser discs one distributor has stood out as a leader in quality. This extended beyond the technical specifications to the cinematic and cultural value of the film itself; the Criterion Collection. Many cinephiles associate films in this collection with cutting edge independent and foreign movies but in recent years has expanded the scope of their selection process to include films that are certifiably fan favorites. Criterion still retains their commitment to excellence in the audio and video standards move from laser discs through DVD and currently releasing Blu-ray titles. Concurrent with keeping up with the latest technical standards their broader view of classic films now includes movies that were part of our youth, the ones that instilled in many of us a lifelong dedication to enjoying movies. For those of us counted as constituents of the Baby Boomer generation much of our appreciation for movies began with Saturday afternoon matinees. Along with the cartoon, newsreel and action serial was a feature, usually science fiction of horror in many cases the two genres were blended most notably in a type of flick lovingly referred as a creature feature. Usually something would arrive from outer space or emerge from a radioactive test site or laboratory that would threaten life as we know it. One of my all-time favorites from my childhood was a little movie about a giant mass of gelatin that begins to devour a small town; ‘The Blob’. Now I’m referring to the classic 1958 original not the 1988 remake. When I received a notice that this childhood memory would be added to the ranks of the much lauded Criterion Collection I was overjoyed. Not that long ago a true American Horror standard ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was included on the list. That movie has long been hailed as pivotal, helping to define the genre. Some might consider the Criterion Collect rather esoteric, targeted to the festival circuit crowd. The inclusion of ‘The Blob’ demonstrates they have an eclectic view of movies; one that includes the cultural attachments firmed with the audience. This movie is notable for several reasons but at the top of the list has to be memories of good times in the neighborhood theater.
One thing my late wife and I always noticed about these movies is hoe the teenagers all seemed in their thirties. It was just something about how actors of the era looked and carried themselves but it always stood, particularly in this movie. ‘The Blob’ starts in the darkness of the local lover’s lane where a couple was parked. In typical fashion the guy, Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) was less inclined to stop than his date, Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut). At this time McQueen was already establishing himself in both TV and film and just before his breakout role in the iconic western, ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Fans of vintage television will recognize Ms Corsaut as Sheriff’ Andy’s girlfriend in ‘Mayberry’. This was her screen debut. While rebuking his advances the amorous interlude is disrupted by what looked to be a ‘shooting star’. Realizing it landed nearby Steve’s hormonal drive is over whelmed by curiosity and the couple head out to investigate. Meanwhile, an old man (Olin Howland) stumbles across a spherical rock and proceeds to poke it with a stick. A good piece of life advice here is never poke a meteorite with a stick. The rational becomes evident when the rock breaks in half; a red goop speeding up the stick to cover his hand; it quickly spreads painfully up his arm. The Steve and Jane find the old man and decide to take him to Doc Hallen (Stephen Chase). Leaving him in the care of the doctor and his nurse, Kate (Lee Payton) the kids return to the site of the crash to investigate what it might be. Once they leave the blob consumes the old man and unsated proceeds to go for the doctor and nurse. There is a tug on the heart strings of the audience through the introduction of a small dog into the mix that Jane promises to her younger brother, Danny (Keith Almoney).
Steve and his friends are well known to the local law for their pranks. Steve was just caught drag racing in reverse so when tries to convince the cops about a flesh eating goo from outer space they find it difficult to believe. Sgt. Jim Bert (John Benson) is especially feed up with these troublesome kids but his boss, Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe) is more understanding. Unable to get the police to respond Steve and the other teens take it upon themselves to rally the town against the rapidly growing amorphous creature. They have little success alerting the disinterested adults but when the Blob oozes through the projection booth of the local movie house during a midnight screening of a horror flick. The follow it to a supermarket owned by Jane’s father avoiding certain death by taking cover in the meat locker. Little Danny tries to shoot the creature with a cap gun while dressed in footy PJs, a real blast from the fifties, and the Blob chases the boy into a diner. Jane and Steve go after them but by point the Blob is huge; enveloping the entire building. In the climactic scene Steve realizes cold stops the creature and has his friends break into the High School to gather as many CO2 fire extinguishers as possible. Finally the Air force scoops the frozen Blob up dumping it in the Artic.
This movie did have a lot of notable features in it. One was the campy theme song ‘Beware the Blob’ which was written by soon to be famous composer, Burt Bacharach. The pacing of the film was typical of the fifties creature features targeted to teens watching movies like this in drive-ins and local theaters. It was before the grind house era and therefore not overtly gory although it did possess a solid narrative. Another popular trope is the kids save the day. The teens watching greatly enjoyed watching their own generation saving their parents. It was the ingenuity of Steve, though by most to be a trouble maker, to figure out how to save the town. Finally a plot device that was extremely common in the fifties the U.S. military there to defending against any menace whether from across the seas or beyond the stars. Now available as a pristine, remastered high definition release we can revisit this classic part of our youth better than it was ever seen before.