Saturday, May 1, 2010

In short: The Unearthly (1957)

Dr. Charles Conway (John Carradine) runs a small, private institution for the slightly troubled. The good doctor is not as kindly as he might seem on first contact, though. He is (surprise!) in fact a mad scientist who only takes in patients nobody will miss and uses them for his immortality experiments. Just implant an artificial gland, apply electricity and you have…Lobo (Tor Johnson). Oops.

Lobo is actually one of Conway's more successful experiments and makes one hell of a factotum ("Time to go bed now!") but he still isn't exactly what the scientist and his (of course mightily in love with the incomparable Carradine - see "Oedipus") assistant Dr. Gilchrist (Marilyn Buferd) are after.

Fortunately, a local physician is quite helpful at delivering young, healthy patients without a family as experimental subjects, so Conway can do science whenever he wants. The newest house delivery is Grace (Allison "50 Foot Woman" Hayes), and boy, does she leave Conway drooling for quite a different thing than science. Even better, chance plays the escaped convict Mark Houston (Myron Healey) right into the doctor's hand. This type of men can be easily blackmailed into cooperation. Or he could be, if he didn't fall for Grace as well. Combine the emotional incentive with nosiness, and you have a problem for our mad scientist.

The Unearthly is a mildly interesting mad scientist yarn, relatively competently directed by Boris Petroff/Brooke L. Peters, but lacking in cleverness or idiocy to be completely convincing. Why people regularly put it on lists with "the worst films" isn't quite clear to me, though. Isn't that the place where Michael Bay films go to die?

The cast is a small festival of 50s monster movie darlings doing their respective things; Tor shambles and moans, Carradine seems conscious and gets one or two good rants in, Hayes is convincing and attractive in that stiff 50s movie manner, and Healey - usually a tough bad guy in his movies - seems to relish his atypical hero turn. Surprisingly, the film even does a vaguely clever stunt casting trick with Healey.

What the film shows of mutants and monsters looks not bad at all, but I can't say that it makes good use of them. It's certainly nice and humane to have the "monsters" until the finale only as victims, but it isn't exactly exciting to watch. In the end, the main problem with the "monsters" is their lack of screen time.

Instead of the goodies, the film concentrates a bit too much on the cat and mouse game between Carradine and Healey for its own good. The writing just isn't sharp enough to carry this aspect of the film, so what should be tense feels just a bit limp.

Having said that, The Unearthly still has enough okay moments to recommend it to friends of cheap 50s monster movies (and who isn't one?) - Carradine is doing GLAND SCIENCE!, after all - you just need to keep your expectations in check. A forgotten classic this ain't.



Pauline said...

I love this movie and so do my kids. Lobo is my 11 year old's favorite. And now both girls will find your excellent review is on their "required weekend reading list".

That's just the kind of Mom I am.

houseinrlyeh said...

Good taste does run in the family.