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The Giant Claw 

a/k/a The Mark of the Claw

     "Once more a frantic pilot radios in a report on a UFO. A bird ... A bird as big as a Battleship! Circling and preparing to attack the CAB plane!"

-- The metaphorically challenged narrator        




Gonzoid Cinema




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Sights &
Giant Claw 
 Clover Productions / 
 Columbia Pictures

You Get
What You
Paid For:
The Cinematic
Turd-Burgers of
Sam Katzman

Teen-Age Crimewave

Rock Around the Clock

The Werewolf

Earth vs. The

Flying Saucers

The Giant Claw

Hot Rods to Hell

You may recall that in our last review of The Beast from 20000 Fathoms, we talked about all the subsequent productions that were a direct result of that particular film's box-office bonanza. Hoping to cash in on that success, today's movie borrowed heavily on that film's formula but really fudged-up on one vitally important ingredient: it's monster. 

Oh brother, did it ever royally fudge-up on it's monster...

Our film begins with, what else, copious amounts of stock footage and our good friend, the overly redundant narrator, explaining what we're looking at: 

And according to him, we're way up north in Canada, somewhere along the D.E.W. line (-- and if you don't know what that is, go watch The Deadly Mantis), where civilian engineer Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) hot-rods around in a military fighter jet while his companion on the ground, one Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), crunches numbers on a new radar set-up they're testing. After some idiotic banter -- that I think is supposed to be implicit sexual innuendo between our two leads, Mac spots a UFO, a UFO moving at such great speeds that it blurs right past him. Radioing this in, and despite the fact that this blur, this blur as big as a battleship, doesn't appear on the new fangled radar, an interceptor squadron is launched to investigate (-- just in case it's those pesky Russians wanting to start some). But after landing, Mac gets a blistering earful from the base commander for wasting precious tax-payer's money with such an incredulous false alarm (-- you mean besides letting civilians muck around in one of your jets?). This rant abruptly ends, however, when word comes that one of the search planes has gone missing -- after it reported spotting a blur, a blur as big as a battleship -- he typed ominously...

Wasting more tax dollars, Mac and Sally appear to be the only cargo on a military transport back to the States. When their C-47 encounters some rough turbulence, some rough turbulence as rough as a battleship, Mac rushes to the cabin just as the turbulence hits them again -- hard, and the pilot is knocked unconscious in the violent wash. As our hero takes the controls, the film blindsides us with our first atrocious F/X shot as the balsawood C-47 goes into a nosedive -- and it also appears to be having some transmission problems while it plummets to the ground, when it seems to get stuck in neutral, and then full reverse(!), before gravity firmly reasserts itself. Mac proves his piloting skills are truly mighty by pulling this schizoid plane out of that terminal nosedive and belly-lands it into some trees, where luckily, he and Sally manage to get the pilot out before the plane explodes -- and who knew balsa was that volatile?

Finding refuge at the nearby farmhouse of Pierre -- French comedy relief, and provider of spiked apple-cider -- after the survivors contact the proper authorities, Mac tries to convince them it was his UFO that attacked them, but again, nothing appeared on radar so no one, including Sally, believes him. Listening in, Pierre thinks it must be Le Cocona (-- or something): a mythical giant bird-like creature, and, according to legend, if you see this creature it means your own death is imminent. And with that plot device now out in the open, something starts spooking Pierre's livestock. When he goes out to investigate, Mac and Sally quickly here him scream and drag him back inside, where the man raves about seeing Le Cocona for realsies. Of course, Mac, sounding a little hypocritical, given the circumstances, thinks the poor man's just hallucinating after drinking too much spiked Apple-Jack. Soon after, the local constabulary arrive, who informs Mac and Sally that they're to be rushed to the nearest airport for an immediate flight to New York. But as their car pulls away, the camera pans over to reveal the giant footprint of a bird, a bird as big as a battleship, embedded in the ground -- and if this film has one redeeming F/X shot, that's the only one.

Once on the plane and well into the journey, Mac takes his best shot at stealing a kiss from Sally. Okay, it's his best shot only because she's asleep. Then, after some more groan-inducing banter, when Sally mentions something about a pattern, the lone filament in Mac's brain sputters and sparks to life. Asking to see one of Sally's maps, he then plots out all the sightings of the UFO, a UFO as big as a batt -- ah, forget it ... But then that aforementioned filament quickly flames out as Mac draws a spiral pattern, connecting all the dots -- which can mean only one thing: the UFO is very very dizzy. With that, speaking on behalf of the entire audience, a fellow passenger asks them to quiet down (-- because they aren't making a whole lot of sense.)

Meanwhile, the military has dispatched a special investigative team to examine the wreckage of Mac's downed airplane; but before they reach the site, their plane is buzzed by a familiar UFO. Frantically, the pilot radios a mayday, reporting they're under attack by a giant bird, a bird as big as a -- oh, yeah, I was going to stop doing that ... And then the goofiest dang monster in screen history finally reveals itself, and what little credibility this film had left is chucked clean out the window...


Holy CRAP! ... Yeah, watch it again. I can wait.

E'yup, after our stuffed prop-monster manages to snatch the balsawood plane without disturbing the wires holding it up, those that managed to bail out are quickly set upon by this flying monstrosity -- and insult to our intelligence. Picking them off one by one, the bird snatches the helpless investigators in it's beak with a satisfyingly gruesome crunch ... Can you believe what we just saw? Now, I can understand if you cannot quite get your mind around it. It took me a while, too. And I encourage everyone to pause the film at this point to fully recover from those uncontrollable laughing fits as we ponder just how -- HOW! -- how in the hell this thing ever got committed to film. And to do that, we'll need to start at the top:

Legendary film producer Sam Katzman left behind an exhaustive body of work, and almost all of them made money. Of course when you consider his budgets and "five to nine day wonder" shooting schedules, that statement kind of loses some of it's luster. I mean, How hard could that really be?

Katzman's thrifty career in show business began with the serials and several Tim McCoy westerns. He then graduated over to Poverty Row, working at Monogram, for a few Bela Lugosi vehicles and bilked The East Side/Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys until they were all long in the tooth. With a renowned reputation for his miserly budgets, Katzman never met a corner he couldn't cut.

How cheap was he? Former Dead End Kid Huntz Hall often tells a story of how Katzman came on to the set one day when his director wasn't working fast enough to suit him. Asking how many pages had been shot, hoping he had done the slated ten, the director answered five. Katzman then took the script, ripped five pages out and said they were done for the day. Ken Tobey tells of a similar story during the shoot for It Came from Beneath the Sea, making one wonder if Katzman did it for all of his productions.

Then it was off to Columbia, and the equally miserly minded Harry Cohn, where Katzman cranked out more serials, including one particular flash of brilliance when he and Kirk Alyn brought the Man of Steel to life in The Adventures of Superman. (He also produced the original Batman serial as well.) Katzman was also one of the firsts to exploit the burgeoning rock-n-roll scene with a string of jukebox pictures -- including not one, but two, movies based on "The Twist". Seems Katzman just had a knack for cashing in on fads, squeezing every last cent of them, and then move on to the next big thing. Katzman, of course, hedged his bets by countering these pro-teen films with plenty of juvenile delinquent fair like Teenage Crime-Wave. He was also responsible for two of Elvis Presley's most reviled pictures, Harum Scarum and Kissin' Cousins, and that's really saying something. The producer did have better luck and results with most of his sci-fi pictures. Eddie Cahn's Creature with the Atom Brain, Fred Sears' Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and his totally neglected The Werewolf are all actually pretty good (-- and a tip of the proverbial hat to those who overachieved on those projects.) He even road shotgun as executive producer on Charles H. Schneer's first effort, It Came from Beneath the Sea, and this probably explains why Ray Harryhausen's octopus only had six tentacles instead of eight.

With The Giant Claw, however, Katzman perhaps went back to the well one too many times. Bringing Sears back to direct, he cast genre veterans Morrow, Corday and Morris Ankrum. Couple all that with a script from two screenwriters who mainly wrote westerns and jungle pictures -- and the fateful decision to farm out the special-effects to a studio in Mexico City, specifically on monetary grounds (-- in other words, it was a lot cheaper), this combination was destined to blow up in Katzman's face.

And boy did it go boom. Now where were we? Oh, yeah...

Now where were we? Oh, yeah ... After we finally witness Katzman's monster in all of its glory, the rest of the plot basically becomes irrelevant for the remainder of the picture; it just doesn't matter. All we really want is to see that gangly, googily-moogily thing in action again. Eventually, our protagonists finally get to see the it, too, when they check out the photos from some cameras that were sent up in balloons for an "Earth curvature calibration" study. Luckily for them, the bird buzzed one of those balloons and came in for a close-up. And now that they know what it is, General Buzzkirk (Robert Shayne) and General Considine (Morris Ankrum) are convinced they can bring it down with some superior fire power. And after a stock-footage tour of the globe, the monster is attacked by a squadron of Buzzkirk's jet-fighters, but their rockets prove useless and the monster destroys them all (-- magically changing the shape of the stock-footage planes when it eats them.) 

Our hero then consult with Dr. Karol Noymann (Edgar Barrier) -- no relation to that guy from The Invisible Invaders -- who makes a quantum leap in logic when he suggests that the giant bird is from outer space. He even pushes it further, claiming the bird is probably from an anti-matter galaxy and projects an anti-matter shield around its body; and that's why the rockets and cannons had no effect; they harmlessly detonated when they hit the shield. Well actually, in theory -- if I'm remembering my rudimentary physics right, any matter that touches anti-matter would explode -- like parachutists and balsawood airplanes, but they quickly explain away that plot-hole by theorizing the monster can control the shield and shuts it off when it feeds.

As work commences to try and counteract this anti-matter shield, Sally gets in on the wild postulating and suggests the reason the bird landed on Earth was to nest and lay eggs. One creature is bad enough (-- believe me), Mac thinks, and quickly deduces that the nest must be near Pierre's farm. Commandeering a helicopter, they round up Pierre and within a very short time come under attack -- but Mac manages to land the helicopter before getting eaten. They follow the bird, and sure enough, it has built a nest, and nestled in the center is a very large egg. Pierre, being French, quickly surrenders and runs away. Taking up his rifle, being from Montana and all(!), Sally and Mac open fire and scramble the egg. Enraged, the bird takes it out on poor Pierre. 

And since the egg broke when you shot it, I'm assuming the shield was down. Why not take a few shots at that thing's ugly noggin' while you were at it? Ah, well ... Why be logical now, right? Back to the review...

Poor Pierre, he did prophesize his own death, but that doesn't stop Mac and Sally from stealing his car to get back to the States. Along the way, they're passed by some hot-rodding teenagers who quickly become buzzard-chow. And with that subplot now safely tucked out of the way, work continues on the anti- anti-matter force field endeavor as Mac and Noymann hit upon an idea for a "mu-messon" cannon that will disrupt the anti-matter long enough for Buzzkirk to blow the thing out of the sky. Of course, they have to develop a working model first.

Next, the development montage is interrupted for a truly incredible sequence, where the giant bird monster attacks and plucks a train right off the tracks, and then flaps away with the whole train dangling from it's claw! Watch and boggle:


Meanwhile, the development of the cannon moves along slowly until Mac blows up the lab. Eureka! Seems he finally realized all they had to do was, duh, reverse the polarity. And now that it works, they have to quickly mount the cannon into the rear turret of an old B-17, too, because the giant bird is in the process of leveling a very poor replica of New York City! 

With Buzzkirk and Considine flying the plane, Mac mans the gun, with Noymann and Sally along for calculations and moral support. When the bird give chase, Mac blasts away at it with the cannon. Hoping the contraption worked, Considine orders the shore batteries to open fire. Luckily, the shield has been short-circuited and the artillery barrage blows the bird right out of the sky, sending it plummeting into the water, where the smoking carcass slowly sinks beneath the surface.

The Earth is saved again.

When people often talk about laughing themselves to death, we're usually kidding or exaggerating, but on two separate occasions, I actually feared for my life while laughing: one was my first screening of O' Brother Where Art Thou, when the three escaped convicts are pulled out of the train by their leg-irons, domino style -- I was laughing so hard at that I couldn't get any air to go in and damned near passed out. The second was my first screening of The Giant Claw, and by the monsters third appearance, I had pulled a muscle in my stomach from laughing too hard -- off course, I was about five-sheets to the wind at the time. Sometimes beer and bad monster movies can be detrimental to your health.

While The Giant Claw was in pre-production, Katzman really sold his director and cast on the fantastic F/X that were going to bring the fearsome, giant space bird to life on screen. So with visions of a sleek and deadly foe, production commenced. Everyone involved, except for the crew down in Mexico, had no clue as to what the finished product was destined to look like, and these visions of grandeur soon became delusional as the resulting efforts were -- well ... Wow...

The written word does not do this monster justice. One must watch, experience, and endure The Giant Claw to fully appreciate the -- what is the word I'm looking for ... inept grandeur of it. My god. Look at that thing and try not to laugh. From it's mangy tail feathers to the Larry Fine haircut on the tip of it's pointy head, and from it's big, googley-eyes and flaring nostrils to the loose molars in its crooked beak, one can only watch, stupefied, before erupting with uncontrolled laughter. Whether it's a stuffed-prop twirling around on visible wires in erratic trajectories for the long shots, or an articulated marionette for the close ups, it doesn't matter, this monster transcends bad into a whole new realm of incredulity. There have been worse and less animate monsters on the big screen, but this ... this is just insane

For the worst puppet monster F/X you'll have to cast your eyes on Sid Pink's no less dubiously inept Reptillicus.

The monster isn't the only instance of failure for the F/X crew. Take a look at the wooden plane props, the balsawood buildings the creature gets to destroy, and the firecracker induced pyrotechnics. It all looks bad enough, but when you add in the creature's repeating gobble/cackling war-hoop -- "AWWK! AWWK! AWWK! -- all hope is lost.

Upon first seeing the footage, I can't even fathom what went through the producer's mind during the editing process. To save even more money, Katzman cannibalized footage, F/X, and even the soundtrack from his earlier films -- Earth vs. The Flying Saucers was victimized the most, including one clearly visible saucer crashing through a wall during the bird's rampage in New York.

Audiences should have been suspicious when all the promotional artwork for the film purposefully omitted showing the monster's head; just it's long neck stretching off the page, while the claws do all the damage. [See the poster campaign here, and the newspaper ads here.] Both Morrow and Corday would go on to tell of embarrassing trips to the theater to finally see the end results of their work. Morrow left early and headed to the bar, while Corday sunk lower and lower in her seat. Both of their careers never fully recovered after this picture. Sears dropped dead of a heart attack not long after the film premiered. (And no, this wasn't the cause of it. At least I think it wasn't.) Without missing a beat, Katzman put this disaster behind him and kept cranking them out until his own death in 1973.

This movie ... What is it about this movie that makes me love it so much in spite of my better judgment? It's just a paint by the numbers plot (-- that's eternally stuck on one metaphor for the creature), hampered by ludicrous effects and is laced with a metric-ton of pseudo-science gobbledygook that doesn't make one darn bit of sense. And yes, it's hero is a blockhead, who is called on to do everything, but it does have a very cute and spunky heroine. And so help me, once you get past the initial reaction to the monster, it is quite beautiful -- in an atrocious kind of way.

Somehow this movie, and others like it, transcend all the cards dealt against it -- and we're talking about the entire deck, including the jokers, folks -- and reaches a new level of enjoyment that is truly baffling and unfathomable for me to explain. I don't know why, but I love every gawdawful stinking minute of The Giant Claw -- lumps and all. Seek this movie. Find this movie. Watch this movie. And you -- defying all rationality -- will love this movie, too. Trust me.

The Giant Claw (1957) Clover Productions :: Columbia Pictures / P: Sam Katzman / D: Fred F. Sears / W: Samuel Newman, Paul Gangelin / C: Benjamin H. Kline E: Tony DiMarco, Saul Goodkind / M: Mischa Bakaleinikoff / S: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Louis Merrill, Robert Shayne, Edgar Barrier

Originally Posted: 10/17/04 :: Rehashed: 04/28/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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