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The Cyclops

The Cyclops(1957)

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teaser The Cyclops (1957)

Nicknamed Mr. B.I.G. by Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman, Bert I. Gordon is a writer/director/producer whose low-budget efforts in the horror and sci-fi genre were distinguished by Gordon's obsession with SIZE. A quick glance at his filmography reveals the director's fascination with scale and perspective in such infamous titles to his credit as King Dinosaur (1955), Attack of the Puppet People (1958) and Village of the Giants (1965). And even though the special effects work in Gordon's films can't compete with the more meticulous stop-motion animation and matte work of his contemporary Ray Harryhausen, the director's best known movies such as Beginning of the End (1957), which features giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago, The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Earth vs. the Spider (1958) retain a tacky charm and amuse as lowbrow entertainments but often reflect the nuclear age fears of their era.

The Cyclops (1957), one of his earliest efforts, is fondly remembered by many filmgoers who saw the movie as kids at a Saturday matinee, having been drawn in by its huckster poster campaign: "World's Mightiest Horror! More Monstrous Than Anything Human Eyes Have Seen! The Giant Man-Thing growing 50 Ft. high in a horrendous land where nature has gone mad!" Typical of most fantasy genre films of its era, the one-sheet for The Cyclops reveals its star attraction in all of his hideous glory but the creature doesn't make an actual appearance in the film until the final third. Prior to that, the story follows Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott), a woman who organizes a small search party to find her missing fianc in the mountains of Mexico. Accompanying her are her fianc's friend, scientist Russ Bradford (James Craig), pilot Lee Brand (Tom Drake) and uranium speculator Martin Melville (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who is partially financing the trip. The search party, despite warnings from Mexican officials, eventually land their plane in a remote valley that is populated by mutant animals, the result of radioactivity. Eventually they discover evidence of Susan's missing boyfriend Bruce - his wrecked plane, a flight jacket - which is topped by an even more shocking revelation.

An independent production, The Cyclops was initially slated to be distributed by RKO on a double feature with X the Unknown but that deal collapsed when the studio's distribution arm folded. Instead the movie was paired with Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, also starring Gloria Talbott. The attractive, sexy brunette was a popular "scream queen" of fifties horror films, appearing in such iconic movies as I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) and The Leech Woman (1960). She is prominently showcased in this often risible outing and shares some memorably inane moments with her co-stars James Craig (The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941), Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man,1941, Of Mice and Men, 1939), and Tom Drake (The White Cliffs of Dover, 1944, Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944) - all of whom had seen better days in their Hollywood careers and were now relegated to B movies.

The dialogue alone qualifies The Cyclops as a guilty pleasure for some. Gordon, who wrote the screenplay, has a fondness for lines that state the obvious in a way that only exaggerates the absurdity of the remark. For example, when the pilot hears the agonized roar of the Cyclops, he says, "That doesn't sound like wild turkey." When Craig and Talbott return from spotting some gigantic lizards and are asked in a mocking tone by Drake and Chaney if they saw dinosaurs, Craig solemnly states, "Susan and I saw a rodent as big as a dog and a hawk about twelve feet tall." The absence of any irony in these solemn exchanges transforms the flat dialogue into comic punch lines. The dynamics between the poorly drawn characters is equally nutty. Melville (Chaney) is revealed to be a dangerous wild card early on - he knocks out the pilot during an argument and almost crashes the plane - yet is allowed to endanger the group's safety again and again. Bradford (Craig), supposedly the most intelligent one in the group because he's a bacteriologist, turns out to be a detached and egocentric stereotype of the scientific personality. Not only does he display no emotion toward encountering his former friend, now transformed into a mutant beast, but he even persuades Susan to risk her life as bait in an effort to help their group escape from the Cyclops' cave. When Susan snaps, "You're so cold-blooded, you sound like you're enjoying this," Bradford responds unapologetically, "I am. As a scientist."

In an interview with Tom Weaver for his book Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers, Gloria Talbott recalled what it was like being directed by Bert I. Gordon. "He was like a man possessed because he did have to get it finished quickly; this was done in five or six days." The actress remembered being particularly upset by Gordon's remark, prior to shooting a scene, that she was a weak screen presence and completely overpowered by her co-stars Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in We're No Angels (1955). "To this day," Talbott said, "I don't know if he just wanted me angry in that one scene - but if he did, he did a very good job! I was absolutely infuriated, and I stayed mad at him throughout the rest of the picture....You'll remember that in that first scene my character is agitated? Well, it's not all acting! I was mad as hell that first day - I came close to quitting."

Lon Chaney, Jr. was already a full-fledged alcoholic at this point in his career and would often be drunk on his film sets but still able to function and do his scenes. Talbott said, "He was a bear of a man, but kind and sweet" and recounted one scene where her three co-stars were all drinking during their scene in the Cessna prop, Talbott and Craig in the backseat and Drake and Chaney in front: "...both Lon and Tom were absolutely smashed. James Craig was nipping a little, too, but nothing like what was going on in the front! And in this -h-o-t, tiny mock-up I was getting blasted from the fumes! It was such close quarters and so hot that I was ingesting alcohol through my skin. I was getting absolutely stoned, and by the time we got out of there I was weaving. If you watch that scene, you'll see that every once in a while I look a little sick - well, I was!"

It was no surprise to anyone that The Cyclops was mostly ignored or dismissed by critics during its original release but provided a passable diversion for fans of the genre. The Variety review was typical of the mainstream press response: "Elementary in conception and execution, this science-fiction entry relies heavily on the gruesome to make its point....Bert I. Gordon wrote, produced and directed, with no particular distinction in any area." Yet, the film's enduring appeal has a lot to do with the cult nature of sci-films and Gordon's legacy as a B movie maverick. This excerpt from Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film pinpoints The Cyclops's quirky attraction for fans: "The 50-foot monster is Bert Gordon's dumbest/weirdest special effect. His mutated face is half covered with flabby flesh, half the mouth shows oversize teeth, and of course there is one oversized eye. If he resembles the guy in War of the Colossal Beast [1958] it's because it's the same actor (Dean Parkin). A trash classic!"

Producer: Bert I. Gordon
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay: Bert I. Gordon
Cinematography: Ira Morgan
Music: Albert Glasser
Film Editing: Carlo Lodato
Cast: James Craig (Russ Bradford), Gloria Talbott (Susan Winter), Lon Chaney (Martin 'Marty' Melville), Tom Drake (Lee Brand), Duncan Parkin (The Cyclops (Bruce Barton)), Vincent Padula (The Governor), Marlene Kloss (The Salesgirl), Manuel Lpez (The Policeman).

by Jeff Stafford

Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup by Tom Weaver (McFarland)
Lon Chaney, Jr.: Horror Film Star 1906-1973 by Don G. Smith (McFarland)
Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s by Tom Weaver (McFarland)

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