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Not only is Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) the quintessential drive-in movie, it was made with drive-in money. Producer Bernard Woolner and his brothers Lawrence and David had founded a chain of drive-in theaters in the American Deep South in the years immediately following the Second World War. Business for the Woolners was profitable enough for the brothers to expand into film distribution (with Roger Corman's Swamp Women in 1956) and production (beginning with Corman's Teenage Doll in 1957). The title Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was Bernard Woolner's invention, no doubt inspired by the behemoth box office of Eugne Louri's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Jack Arnold's Tarantula (1955), Ishiro Honda's Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954, released in the US in 1956) and Bert I. Gordon's The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), whose scenarist, Mark Hanna, Woolner tapped for this project.
Partnered with Woolner on production of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was Jacques Marquette. The native New Yorker was a former Technicolor staffer and Hollywood camera operator who longed to establish himself within the industry as a cinematographer. He had taken the proactive step of establishing his own production company, in a bid to finance his own films and hire himself as a director of photography. Marquette and his partners had lost their shirts on The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) and two other films due to their association with unscrupulous distributors Howco International, who had fronted the low budgets for shooting but cheated Marquette Productions of its share of the net profits. For Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Woolner secured a budget of $99,500 from distributors Allied Artists and with Marquette hired The Brain from Planet Arous director Nathan Juran to pull the picture together.
The Austria-born Juran studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before heading to California with the sole intention of staying warm. During World War II, he was assigned to director John Ford's unit and used his skills as a draftsman to determine the dimensions of enemy structures in captured photographs for the Office of Strategic Services. Juran's drafting skills translated well to work with the art departments at 20th Century Fox and Universal, where he shared an Academy Award for art direction for Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941). He became a director when Universal hired him to replace Joseph Pevney on The Black Castle (1952), starring Boris Karloff. Juran honed his craft on swashbucklers, westerns and crime films and subspecialized in science fiction and fantasy with Universal's The Deadly Mantis (1957) and Columbia's Twenty Million Miles to Earth (1957) and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
Juran had agreed to direct The Brain from Planet Arous for union scale with the proviso that he be billed as Nathan Hertz, using his middle name. He insisted on the same credit for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, again fearing that the material was subpar and likely to damage his status in the studio system. Despite a budget that was nearly double that of The Brain from Planet Arous, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman had to make do with primitive special effects, resulting in an intergalactic spacecraft constructed from pegboard, a giant hand that would not pass muster in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the climactic transformation of heroine Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) into the most unjolly of giants accomplished via an obvious double exposure that renders her ghostly when she should be larger and in charge. Happily, Juran's handling of the actors is assured and playful, while Marquette's camerawork is surprisingly expressionistic throughout and Ronald Stein's jazzy score a toe tapping success.
Shot in only eight days, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was brought in under-budget at $89,000 - and luckily, with no injuries. According to co-star Yvette Vickers in an interview with Ted Okuda for Filmfax, shooting the climax was daunting. "There's that scene where all the lumber from the cafe roof falls down," she recalled, "and one of the wooden beams crushes the table I'm supposed to be hiding under. And afterwards, there's a shot where I'm lying there with all the debris around me. Well, after we filmed that scene, I looked up and noticed there was a nail on a board that was about two inches from my head. It could have gone right into my skull! But who thinks things like that are going to happen?"
The film grossed $480,000 in its initial theatrical run, a profit margin shared this time with Marquette Productions. Jacques Marquette went on to a busy career as a for-hire cinematographer, shooting Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959), Burt Topper's The Strangler (1964) and Dan Curtis' Burnt Offerings (1976), in addition to episodes of such popular TV series as Sea Hunt, That Girl and Hawaii 5-0. Due to its title and ropey special effects, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is considered a schlock classic by more people than have actually watched it. Remade for cable television in 1993 (with Daryl Hannah in the title role), the film was spoofed in Fred Olen Ray's Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995) and has endured as a pop culture touchstone. The original one sheet, a vivid Reynold Brown illustration of a supersized Nancy Archer straddling an elevated freeway, fetches thousands of dollars on the collector's market and was short-listed by Premiere magazine in 2008 as one of the "25 Best Movie Posters Ever".
Producer: Bernard Woolner
Director: Nathan Hertz
Screenplay: Mark Hanna
Cinematography: Jacques R. Marquette
Music: Ronald Stein
Film Editing: Edward Mann
Cast: Allison Hayes (Nancy Fowler Archer), William Hudson (Harry Archer), Yvette Vickers (Honey Parker), Roy Gordon (Dr. Isaac Cushing), George Douglas (Sheriff Dubbitt), Ken Terrell (Jess Stout), Otto Waldis (Dr. Heinrich Von Loeb), Eileene Stevens (Nurse), Mike Ross (Tony the Bartender/Space Giant), Frank Chase (Deputy Charlie).
by Richard Harland Smith
Jacques Marquette interview by Tom Weaver, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (McFarland and Company, 1994)
The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors by Fred Olen Ray (McFarland and Company, 1991)
Nathan Juran interview by Justin Humphreys, Psychotronic Video, no. 30, 1999
Yvette Vickers interview by John O'Dowd, Psychotronic Video, no. 39, 2003