The Criterion Completist – The Blob (1958)
written by: Theodore Simonson and Kate Phillips
produced by: Jack H. Harris
directed by: Irvin S. Yeaworth
runtime: 86 min.
U.S. release date: September 12, 1958
DVD/Blu-ray release date: November 14, 2000
“Beware of the Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.” Has there ever been a catchier opening ditty than “The Blob”, written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David? Playing over a wavering, animated montage of wobbly circles, this groovy novelty song became a nationwide hit and helped launched the career of the relatively unknown Bacharach.
But “The Blob” is ultimately remembered and revered as maybe the quintessential 1950s sci-fi/horror film, and the best “kids vs. adults” saga ever told. One of these kids is Steve Andrews (played by the 27-year-old Steve McQueen, in what has to be one of the most unconvincing portrayals of a teenager in film history). He’s necking in his car with his best girl Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut, who would go on to play Helen Crump in “The Andy Griffith Show”), when they see a meteorite streaking through the sky and come crashing down in the nearby woods. An old man in the woods (played by Olin Howlin, credited as “Old Man”), finds the space rock in a crater, and after poking at it with a stick, finds his hand engulfed in a purple gelatin. The kids almost run down the Old Man with their car, and take him to the local doctor’s office. Here, the blob begins slowly killing off the townspeople one by one, increasing in size with each successive victim.
Meanwhile, Steve and his ragtag group of delinquent teenage buddies try to explain what’s happening to the unbelieving and stubborn police force, who think it’s just another prank. They quickly change their tune however, when the hungry gelatinous terror sets its sights on a buffet of lily-white teenagers watching a horror double feature at the local Colonial Theater (“Healthfully Air Conditioned!”).
“The Blob“ hits every cliché of 1950s American horror cinema, but stands apart due to the fact that everything about it is just a little bit better than other films from the period. First, McQueen is excellent as Steve, running around town attempting to convince everyone of the existence of the “monster”. This was his first starring role, and his charisma and forceful personality shine through – traits that would later turn him into a star. The supporting actors are all solid, and even some of the parents act naturally, not immediately discrediting the kids’ story. The camerawork, editing and pacing are all quite professional for a movie like this, and the special effects, though dated, stand up quite well today. Everything was shot on location in and around Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and as a portrait of small town life in 1950s, “The Blob” acts as a perfect time capsule for the period (dig those Polio awareness posters in the background!).
Just like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, the fun part about a movie like this is trying to attach meaning to it all. One tagline for the film reads: “Indescribable… Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!” As America was deep into the Cold War with the Soviet Union at this point, can we view the blob as symbolic of the creeping menace of Communism? Or, as Bruce Kawin posits in his essay for the Criterion release, perhaps the blob is indicative of America’s growing appetite for consumer goods during the glory days of the postwar baby boom. Or maybe it’s just a goofy film about a purple glob of jelly that likes to eat people. Anyway you slice it, it’s some fun summer movie watching.
Irvin Yeaworth was best known for directing over 400 religious and motivational short films before he took on “The Blob”. It was an independent production that got picked up by Paramount Pictures, who placed it as the undercard of a double feature with “I Married a Monster From Outer Space”. After some successful sneak viewings scored “The Blob” higher with test audiences, they flipped the order and put The Blob as headliner.
The barebones Criterion release has very few extra features, save for two different commentaries. So far, no Blu-ray edition, though the movie does look absolutely beautiful in its current restored widescreen version. “The Blob” is still in print and in stock from Criterion, and is currently streaming on Hulu Plus.
Matt Streets saw his first film in 1980, when his parents took him to see Robert Altman’s “Popeye” at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, IL. Since that rocky start, he has become a lifelong movie fan, and has written film reviews on and off since giving “Medicine Man” two stars for his high school newspaper back in 1992. He is currently attempting the insane feat of watching every single film in the Criterion Collection as The Criterion Completist.