Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.
There are a great many charms to the original version of The Blob from the late 1950s. This starts right away with the bouncy theme song written by no less a luminary than Burt Bacharach. One of the great things about The Blob is that it comes from those halcyon days when aliens were often depicted as something utterly non-human before they idea of big-headed, big-eyed grey aliens became the norm. The Blob is pure pulp, and is also the catalyst for much of Steve McQueen’s career. Even if the movie sucked, it would be noteworthy for that.
In small town Pennsylvania, young Steve Andrews (McQueen) is out on a date with Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut). Jane thinks Steve is handing her a line as the two sit out in the middle of nowhere looking at the stars, but he claims he’s being honest—he’s never taken another girl here. Just then, a meteor flashes by and impacts close to them. They decide to see if they can find it. Meanwhile, at the site of the impact, a local backwoodsman (Olin Howland) investigates the meteorite and discovers something like an egg. It cracks open and the purplish goo inside attaches itself to his arm. Out on the road, Steve and Jane almost run the man down. Seeing he is in trouble, the put him in the car and drive him to the local doctor’s office.
The doctor (Stephen Chase) is just closing up shop and preparing to leave town for a conference. Seeing the injured man, he postpones his plan and tells Steve and Jane to go out to where they picked him up to see if they can figure out what happened. It’s here that the encounter Tony, Mooch, and Al (Robert Fields, James Bonnet, and Anthony Franke), local hot rodders who challenge Steve to a race. They’re caught by a local cop (Earl Rowe) who delays them. By the time they get back to the doctor’s office, the old man and the nurse have been consumed, and Steve arrives just in time to see the doctor absorbed into the growing extraterrestrial mass.
Of course, the cops don’t believe the kids. Of course the monsters starts picking people off, the sorts who won’t be missed right away because they have weekend plans or are otherwise alone. Eventually, the monster grows large enough that it can no longer be ignored or missed, and now the entire town is alerted and in danger. When the creature attacks a crowded movie theater, and eventually trap Steve, Jane, and a few others in a diner, the final confrontation with the monster takes place.
From a pure cinematic perspective, there’s not a great deal to recommend The Blob. The effects are pretty silly in general and amateurish in the extreme by modern standards. Since this is a low-budget horror movie from the 1950s, almost certainly the second film in a double bill, the effects were never going to be world beating. It also succumbs to a lot of the tropes of the genre. Our heroes are teenagers (despite McQueen actually being in his 20s) who are not believed by any of the adults in the area until they absolutely cannot be denied. That’s all a function of the target audience here. This wasn’t a film for mom and dad, but for the kids in high school.
However, The Blob does manage to transcend a lot of the problems of the genre because, for as goofy as the premise is, everyone plays it straight. Everyone is completely serious about the fact that their small town is being attacked by a giant glob of strawberry jelly that slops over people and digests them. It also benefits tremendously from really good luck. Steve McQueen was a damn fine actor, far better than the material he finds himself in here. In the hands of a lesser actor who couldn’t deal well with such a strange premise, The Blob would likely be an interesting little science fiction number from a decade with plenty of them. Having someone who would go on to be a highly acclaimed actor with a great career is a huge benefit for something that is otherwise interesting, but sort of forgettable.
Except that it really isn’t that forgettable because of the creativity in the monster. Our outer space monster is unique for its time, giving the viewer (at least in its era) something to look at and fear that had really never been seen before. I think it also potentially works as a metaphor for the age. The monster creeps along and absorbs everyone it touches, adding it to its devouring, unthinking mass. Could this be a metaphor for creeping communism, consuming all of the good, wholesome people of small-town America? It might be a stretch, but I think that’s a reading I could make work if I really wanted to.
The Blob isn’t scary. It is, though, a great deal of fun, and absolutely worth seeking if you haven’t already had the joy of seeing it.
Why to watch The Blob: This is classic ‘50s science fiction/horror.
Why not to watch: The effects really don’t hold up.