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You could hardly enter a theatre in the 1950s without encountering a movie featuring giant fauna or hostile alien visitors, but even among such tough competition The Blob (1958) stood out. Maybe it's because of that title: not mutant ants, not giant scorpions but a blob! Perhaps it was the absurd premise; after all, how do you fight a blob? Or was it because of the hot rod hero, Steve McQueen, in his first starring role? Whatever the reason, The Blob still warrants repeated viewings for its unusual plot, unconventional monster and pure camp appeal.
The real hero of The Blob is tough guy Steve Andrews (played by a 28-year-old Steve McQueen). During down time between drag racing stunts, Steve and girlfriend Jane (Aneta Corsaut, best known as Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show) watch a meteor fall to the ground where it starts oozing purple-pinkish glop. So far so icky but this freak of nature takes a more sinister turn when Steve sees it absorb a way-too-curious old man (Olin Howlin) who had been poking at it with a stick. When Steve tries to warn the responsible adults in his town, he is dismissed as the boy who cried "blob." None of them believe his fantastic story about this ever-expanding alien mass that continues to consume the local residents one by one. So Steve and Jane have to come up with a solution on their own.
The Blob was the work of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. based on an idea from one Harris' friends. Yeaworth was a former child radio singer who later began producing movie shorts with religious themes (today he designs theme parks). He knew Steve McQueen through the actor's wife, Neile Adams, an actress in one of his films (Steve used to visit her on the set) but it wasn't until seeing McQueen on a live TV show that Yeaworth thought of him for the lead role in The Blob. The director thought McQueen was a bit too old for the part and the actor agreed but they both realized he was perfect for the role. McQueen was paid $3,000 and was billed as "Steven" for reasons lost in time (one story is that he wanted more screen space, another is that he thought "Steven" sounded more mature).
Most reports state that the film was budgeted at $240,00 but Yeaworth confirms it was $120,000; in any case the production costs were certainly rock bottom, even for a B movie. The Blob was filmed mainly at Valley Forge Film Studios in Pennsylvania but there were a few other local locations that can still be visited by fans of the film. (One of the towns used for filming supposedly has a Blob Museum). Shooting took a speedy three weeks. Since there was little money for special effects, the producers were fortunate to have Barton Sloane as their "monster maker." He developed a blob compound that would flow slowly without sticking to everything in its path. Some effects were done by placing blob material in miniature sets or even on a still photograph but so skillfully that this is rarely noticeable.
According to producer Jack H. Harris in Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makes by Tom Weaver, "Vegetable coloring gave it [The Blob] the red color; it got redder and redder as it grew and consumed more people. One thing we never resolved was, how do you keep the color in there? We just had to keep mixing it, like cake batter, otherwise it would all settle to the bottom. The most we worked with was about a washtub full. Naturally we couldn't afford to cover a diner with the Blob, so what we did there was photograph the diner through a bent bellows to give it dimension. To correct any minute flaws we enhanced the photograph with touch-up and air-brushing. We then mounted it on plywood, set it up on an eight-foot-square gyroscope-operated table and tied cameras to the table, rock-steady. Then we were able to move the table in any direction we wanted; the Blob, of course, would always follow gravity. When we wanted the Blob to jump on the "diner," we put it there and got it to jump off with a quick movement of the table. That footage, shown in reverse, gave us our effect."
Harris and Yeaworth planned on distributing the film themselves but Paramount picked up the distribution for $300,000, giving the filmmakers an instant profit. Paramount added a theme song by two unknown songwriters named Burt Bacharach and Mack David (brother of Bacharach's future collaborator Hal). The song was performed by The Five Blobs (actually just vocalist Bernie Nee overdubbing himself) and spent three weeks in the Top 40 late in 1958.
By the way, the movie briefly glimpsed in the theatre before The Blob invades the projection booth is real. Although it appears on the movie marquee as Daughter of Horror (1955), it was originally released as Dementia (1953). Depending on which version you're seeing, one of them features a voice-over by Ed McMahon! You can pick up a DVD with both edits and extensive background info from Kino International.
Fourteen years after The Blob there would be a sequel - Beware! The Blob (1972) - that picks up where the original ended. Oddly enough, it was directed by Larry Hagman (he played J.R. on the TV series, Dallas). And thirty years later a surprisingly good remake appeared - The Blob (1988) starring Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith. One real curiosity is Blobermouth (1990) which has comedy group The L.A. Connection providing their own dialogue over the original film.
Producer: Jack H. Harris
Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Screenplay: Kate Phillips, Theodore Simonson, Irving H. Millgate (story)
Art Direction: William Jersey, Karl Karlson
Cinematography: Thomas E. Spalding
Special Effects: Bart Sloane
Film Editing: Alfred Hillmann
Original Music: Ralph Carmichael, Burt Bacharach (theme song), Mack David (theme song)
Principal Cast: Steve McQueen (Steve), Aneta Corsaut (Jane), Earl Rowe (Police Lieutenant), Olin Howlin (Old Man), Alden 'Stephen' Chase (Dr. T. Hallen), John Benson (Sergeant Jim Bert), Lee Paton (Kate).
by Lang Thompson