Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
Louis D. Merrill
At the North Pole, civil aeronautics engineer Mitch MacAfee calibrates a new radar facility being installed. While conducting a test flight to gauge the capability of the radar, Mitch spots an unidentified flying object the "size of a battleship." Although the radar fails to detects the presence of the UFO, Mitch sounds an alert, prompting the Air Force to dispatch three planes to investigate the incident. When one of the aircraft and its pilot is lost, Maj. Bergen, the base commander, blames their loss on Mitch's "false alarm" until word comes that a commercial flight disappeared soon after its pilot reported a UFO. With the installation complete, Mitch and Sally Caldwell, a mathematician on the project, fly back to New York. When their plane is attacked by a UFO, the pilot is killed and the engines burst into flames, forcing Mitch to land the crippled aircraft in an open field. After pulling the pilot's body from the craft, Mitch and Sally watch as the plane explodes. They are rescued by French-Canadian farmer Pierre Broussard, who takes them to his cabin where Air Force general Van Buskirk contacts Mitch. Although the general is skeptical about Mitch's report, he agrees to send a team to investigate. That night, as the wind howls and lightening crackles, Pierre ventures outside to calm his animals. Hearing screams, Mitch and Sally hurry to his side and Pierre, terrified, claims that he was attacked by a monstrous apparition. Soon after, the police come to escort Sally and Mitch to a plane sent to pick them up. On the flight to New York, Sally and Mitch are affectionately bickering with each other when Mitch suddenly recognizes a pattern in the sightings of the creature. The next day, as members of the Civil Aeronautics Board fly to investigate the crash, their plane is attacked by a giant bird. When the passengers parachute out of the craft, the bird gobbles them up as they float by. Alarmed by the report of the airplane's panicked pilot, Van Buskirk sends for Mitch and Sally. At their meeting, Sally suggests checking the cameras housed in observation balloons to see if they might have photographed the bird. When the film strips clearly reveal a flying creature, the general classifies the project as top secret and puts his troops on combat alert. Mitch, Sally and Van Buskirk then fly to Washington, D.C. to report their findings to Lt. Gen. Edward Considine. Considine orders the bird shot down, but even the most advanced weapons are useless against the creature. Government scientist Dr. Karol Noymann, who has been studying the wreckage of the planes in his lab, reports that the bird radiates an invisible barrier of anti-matter, thus preventing its detection by radar and destruction by conventional weapons. The doctor concludes that the bird must be an extra-terrestrial from an anti-matter galaxy. Soon after, the bird begins to strafe the ground, igniting a worldwide panic. Several days later, as Mitch struggles to formulate a plan to destroy the creature, Sally deduces that the bird must have landed at Pierre's farm to build a nest. As Sally and Mitch ready to fly to the farm, Considine announces that atomic weapons have proven ineffective against the creature and he is therefore declaring a state of emergency and instituting martial law and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. At the farm, Pierre, Sally and Mitch locate the nest and discover that it holds a single egg. After Pierre flees in fright, Sally and Mitch shoot holes into the egg with their rifles. Infuriated, the bird attacks and kills Pierre. Upon returning to Washington, Mitch devises a plan to bombard the bird's shield with a rare atom. Because few of the atoms exist, Mitch, Sally and Noymann race to develop a large enough quantity to penetrate the anti-matter shield. As experiment after experiment fails, worldwide panic intensifies. One day, Mitch experiences a breakthrough, creating an explosion in the lab that proves his apparatus works. As they are wiring the device onto the tail of a plane, word comes that the bird has attacked New York. The plane immediately takes off, and as Mitch completes the installation of his device, the bird topples the Empire State Building, then targets the United Nations. Upon reaching New York City, Mitch's plane attracts the bird's attention. Just as the bird closes in on the craft, Mitch fires his weapon, destroying the bird's protective shield. Rockets then shoot down the creature, sending it to its death in the East River.
Fred F. Sears
Louis D. Merrill
Saul A. Goodkind
Benjamin H. Kline
The Giant Claw
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).
by Richard Harland Smith
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
The Giant Claw
I know another poem. Be plain in dress and sober in your diet. In short, my dearie, kiss me and be quiet.- Mitch MacAfee
Three men reported they saw something. Two of them are now dead.- Gen. Van Buskirk
That makes me Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in a one-man Bird Watcher's Society!- Mitch MacAfee
Once the world was big, and no man in his lifetime could circle it. Through the centuries, science has made man's lifetime bigger, and the world smaller...- Narrator
Something, he didn't know what, but something as big as a Battleship has just flown over and past him."- Narrator
Well, flying Battleships, pink elephants, same difference.- Sally
I said it looked like a Battleship, not that it was a Battleship.- Mitch MacAfee
Some of the better special effects are recycled from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).
The working title of this film was Mark of the Claw. The picture opens with voice-over narration describing the importance of radar as a national security defense to detect "objects in the sky." The narration then continues intermittently throughout the film. According to a January 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, location filming was done in Mexico City, Mexico.