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The Giant Claw
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,The Giant Claw

The Giant Claw

Fred F. Sears toiled in the B-hive of Columbia Pictures second features unit for less than ten years but amassed an impressive roster of fifty-two films bearing his imprimatur - the last three of which were released posthumously. Dead at 44, Sears was a true Hollywood workaholic. The Boston native and ex-Vaudevillian arrived in Hollywood in 1946 having already attempted suicide once, as the manager of Memphis, Tennessee's Little Theater. Making the break from stage plays to film, Sears worked as an actor at Columbia, contributing small, usually uncredited parts to such films as Alfred Greens The Jolson Story (1946), Douglas Sirk's Shockproof (1949) and S. Sylvan Simons The Fuller Brush Man (1948). Given a significant role in the B western The Lone Hand Texan (1947), Sears befriended cowboy star Charles Starrett, who gave him his break as a director by handing him the reins on Desert Vigilante (1949). After helming a number of Starretts Durango Kid vehicles, Columbia president Harry Cohn and producer Sam Katzman, head of the studios B unit, entrusted Sears with the 15-chapter serial Blackhawk (1952), starring Kirk Alyn.

Sears' deft handling of Blackhawk got him an in with Katzmans Clover Productions and he was soon put to work on a slightly more prestigious level of filmmaking. Though Sears was never given an A-list project by Columbia, his second features for the studio comprised an impressive variety of film genres, including espionage thrillers, musicals, crime dramas, war films and horror and science fiction. Sears' Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), a bald-faced copy of Robert Wise's tonier The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - to the point of staging a major setpiece on the Washington Mall - had benefited from the stop motion magic of Ray Harryhausen while The Werewolf (1956) was an attempt to reboot the lycanthrope mythos in a Cold War setting, stripped of its Gothic baggage. Despite its global implications, The Giant Claw (1957) was one of Sam Katzman's more cheapjack productions, shot in nine days close to Hollywood with Griffith Park subbing for the New York-Canadian border and interiors filmed at the Columbia Annex, near Monogram Studios.

The Giant Claw went into production as Mark of the Claw. The script by Samuel Newman and Paul Gangelin was inspired in part by scientific advancements in the field of particle physics, related to the relationship between matter and antimatter. The film came at the tail end of a decade rife with super-sized threats to humanity, from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). With the statute of limitations seeming to expire for atomic culpability, Newman and Gangelin cooked up the concept of a supersonic intergalactic marauder with a cloak of antimatter that rendered it invisible to radar. The Giant Claw bears a superficial resemblance to Ishiro Honda's Rodan (1956), made in Japan the previous year but unreleased in the United States until August of 1957. Another inspiration may have been the Samuel Adams Hopkins' story "Grandfather and a Winter's Tale." Concerned with the French-Canadian la Carcagne, a mythical bird-like banshee for whom The Giant Claw is mistaken, Hopkins tale was published in The New Yorker in January 1951.

Lacking a headliner of the stature of Richard Carlson or John Agar, Katzman and Sears made do with Universal-International contract player Jeff Morrow. A veteran of Broadway and radios Dick Tracy, Morrow had scored plum supporting roles in This Island Earth (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) at his home studio but opportunities for top billing came via loan-outs to other outfits. Leading lady Mara Corday had starred opposite John Agar in Tarantula (1955), where she found director Jack Arnold to be light-hearted and a bit of a prankster. No such luck during principal photography for The Giant Claw, for which Morrow proved far too serious for the material and director Sears withdrawn to the point of nervousness. (Sears succumbed to a fatal heart attack that November.)

During the filming of The Giant Claw, the actors were not given the chance to see so much as a rendering of the title creature, then being constructed at a studio in Mexico. Corday even recalled in an interview with Tom Weaver that Katzman had boasted to her, "Boy, this is gonna be something! I'm spending most of the budget on the special effects!" It was only during The Giant Claw's sneak preview that Morrow and Corday saw the obvious marionette of the overgrown buzzard, as well as some exceedingly poor model work - qualities that have since made The Giant Claw an enduring cult classic. But at the time, Corday and Morrow were completely embarrassed by their involvement. Morrow later admitted to Weaver in They Fought in the Creature Features, "When the monster appeared on the screen it was like a huge plucked turkey, flying with these incredible squawks! And the audience went into hysterics. I shrunk down in my seat, hoping that no one would realize that I was that man up there on the screen. My only consolation was that, when the picture was over and the lights finally came up, I heard somebody in front of me say, 'And it's such a shame, too, because he's such a very good actor'...After hearing that, I walked out feeling a little more hopeful."

Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Fred F. Sears
Screenplay: Samuel Newman, Paul Gangelin (writters)
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff (uncredited)
Film Editing: Tony DiMarco, Saul A. Goodkind
Cast: Jeff Morrow (Mitchell 'Mitch' MacAfee), Mara Corday (Sally Caldwell), Morris Ankrum (Lt. Gen. Edward Considine), Louis D. Merrill (Pierre Broussard), Edgar Barrier (Dr. Karol Noymann), Robert Shayne (Gen. Van Buskirk), Ruell Shayne (Pete - Pilot), Clark Howat (Maj. Bergen), Morgan Jones (Lieutenant, Radar Officer).
BW-75m. Letterboxed.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Jeff Morrow interview by Tom Weaver, They Fought in the Creature Features (McFarland and Company, 1995)
Jeff Morrow interview by Jim Knusch, Psychotronic Video (No. 16, 1993)
Mara Corday interview by Mike Fitzgerald, Western Clippings, www.westernclippings.com
Mara Corday interview by Tom Weaver, The Astounding B Monster

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