Review: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

When Warner Archive announced that they were bringing the 1958 sci-fi classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Blu-ray, I was elated. The last two years in particular have been an embarrassment of riches for mid-century kitsch on the HD format, with a bevy of beautiful schlock being released with the best presentations ever. Plus, the Warner Archive Blu-ray serves as a much-needed upgrade to my older MOD DVD-R version that Warner has been peddling up until now. 

I think Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is wonderful fun. How could anyone not love a movie about a glowing orb from space which is the method of transportation for a giant who greedily hoards rare diamonds? It's also the story of a wealthy and voluptuous heiress (a thankless role, perhaps, for Allison Hayes who gives it her best) who numbs herself with alcohol because she's with a small man (William Hudson) that she both needs and despises, knowing full well that he married her for her money while he openly canoodles with the town floozy (Yvette Vickers).

As with most of the high-concept genre movies of the era, the promise of the film's poster is never quite fulfilled, but what a poster it is! I'd rank the promotional image for this film among my top 5 movie posters of all time. It's that iconic. We must remember that this is, above all, an exploitation movie. The tease is that we'll see Allison Hayes as a giant, tearing up the town while robed in what is essentially a bikini made of rags. We do actually get this in the film, though it takes the entire movie to get to the point where it happens. This is no different from the films of Roger Corman, who would start with a poster and a title and then make a movie around it. Of course, that spirit was continued well into the 1980s with Cannon films that Golan and Globus sold on speculation with no more than a mockup poster or piece of promotional artwork. It even exists today with the countless mock-busters that pad out the selection on Netflix. Exploitation is as timeless as the movies themselves.

Also, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman knows what it is. I encounter quite a few movie snobs who seem to think that these kitschy mid-century genre movies are productions that have somehow failed and gone off the rails, rather than exist as deliberate camp fun. Call it the MST3K effect, an attitude of superiority driven by Gen X satirists who made snark profitable, as if the filmmakers of these creature features didn't know exactly what they were doing. Director Nathan Juran, billed here under the pseudonym Nathan Hertz, was a master of imagination and an advocate of fantastic cinema. Consider other films that he directed around the same time: The Deadly Mantis, The Brain from Planet Arous, and the not-to-be-missed Harryhausen showcase The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Later, in the 1960s, he'd helm even more fantastic voyages that include Jack the Giant Killer and First Men in the Moon. An eventual transition to television work saw no change in his expertise as he contributed to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. But for me, there's something pure, innocent, and downright delightful about Attack of the 50 Foot Woman which was never quite replicated on screen, though the spirit of the film lives on in 1965's Village of the Giants

The screenplay comes from Mark Hanna, who had plied his trade in similar territory one year before with Bert I. Gordon on 1957's The Amazing Colossal Man. It's also worth mentioning that this film was produced by the Woolner Brothers, who had started in independent exploitation movie production in 1956 with the Corman film Swamp Women, which Corman followed up with Teenage Doll, also with the Woolners. The brothers were instrumental in securing Italian films from the likes of Bava, Margheriti, and Corbucci for US distribution during the 1960s. 

I screened this Blu-ray presentation late on a Saturday evening, as I think the filmmakers would have wanted. At a mere 66 minutes long, it's a great programmer that makes a fine component in a late night B-movie marathon. I'm incredibly pleased with the new Blu-ray and am so grateful that the folks at Warner Archive saw fit to grace this film with such a fine presentation. Warner Archive is famous for its stellar restorations and HD transfers, and this film lives up to the high standards that we've come to expect from the team. Film grain is beautiful and defined, constantly in motion and rarely chunky. Contrast is equally beautiful, with the bold black-and-white imagery looking clean and pronounced, not faded or dull. The supplements include the original theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by the always-welcome Tom Weaver and Yvette Vickers that dedicated fans are sure to love. 

Clearly I feel protective of this movie, as well as other similar low-budget genre excursions, and I do tend to rankle when people besmirch, belittle or bemoan the restoration of 1950s camp classics. Every movie deserves to be seen in the best presentation possible and judged on its own merits; Attack of the 50 Foot Woman has never looked as good as it does now on Blu-ray and I hope it can be viewed with fresh eyes by new generations that just might connect with the spirit of outrageous spectacle that the film delivers.


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