Hollywood proves with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, that where one idea is good, copying that idea and changing it slightly can be better!
In the late 50s, sci-fi films developed into more sci-fi/horror hybrids. The size change films featuring animals grown to monstrous proportions had died down, but now it was time for humans to do the changing, first with The Incredible Shrinking Man, and now with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Destruction and mayhem reigns in this preview. A giant hand reaches into buildings, looking to scoop up some innocent person. In Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, a socialite, who may be a little bit of b-i-t-c-h, is attacked by by some giant monstrosity from an alien spacecraft. She soon grows to the titular proportions of 50 feet tall, wreaking havoc on the city, and presumably looking for her philandering husband.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a pretty straightforward film about an attack by a woman that has grown to 50 feet in size. The local newscaster at KRKR-TV reports on the sightings of a strange flying orb at different locations around the world, mentioning that based on the last sighting, it should be flying over California any time now. At that same moment, Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) is driving home from a local bar without her husband. She believes him to be flirting with another woman. On the road she encounters a giant illuminated sphere, which she continuously calls a “satellite,” rather than a UFO. She screams as a giant hand reaches out for her, and runs all the way back into town.
She tells Sheriff Dubbitt (George Douglas) what she has seen, but he doesn’t believe her thinking that she is drunk. Her husband Harry Archer (William Hudson) has indeed been spending his time with Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers) but decides to take Nancy home to protect “his investment” in her millions of dollars. She insists that they drive out to the desert to look for the ship she saw. When they discover it, a giant man exits the ship and comes at them. Harry empties his gun into the monster, but when that does no good, he flees leaving Nancy on her own.
She turns up later on the roof of her pool house, with some mysterious scratches on her neck that Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon) believes are radioactive. Her butler, Jess (Ken Terrell) believes that Harry is to blame in the attack, knowing of his philandering ways, and calls the sheriff and his deputy Charlie (Frank Chase) in to investigate. Jess and the sheriff discover a giant footprint outside the pool house and follow a trail of similar markings back out to the desert. They discover the ship and explore it, finding Nancy’s diamond necklace (and others) held in some sort of stasis – apparently being used as a power source. They are chased away by the giant man, who destroys their car, forcing the pair to walk back to town. The ship departs.
Meanwhile Nancy, who is being kept in a coma has started to grow larger. Dr. Cushing and his colleague Dr. von Loeb (Otto Waldis) begin running a number of tests on her, but cannot stop the growth. Eventually the morphine they are using to sedate her can no longer work effectively and she breaks out of the house. She is determined to find Harry, who has been shacked up with Honey this entire time in the local motel.
Nancy lumbers through the countryside, scaring off a pair of young lovers being as tall as the power lines now. She begins ripping the roof off of the local motel, which also houses the bar that Harry and Honey are dancing in. Her rage to make Harry “hers” again drives her to destroy the building, dislodging a beam which crashed and kills Honey. Nancy’s giant hand scoops up Harry and she makes an escape. The bullets from the sheriff and deputy seem to do no damage, but an errant shot from their riot gun causes the transformer on the nearby power line to exploding killing Nancy. She falls to the ground, dead, with a puppet sized Harry in her hand (also dead). Once again he belongs to her!
“Who knows, my friend. When women reach the age of maturity, Mother Nature sometimes overworks the frustration to the point of irrationalism.” – Dr. Heinrich von Loeb
History in the Making
Many films from the late 50s could have been substituted for this review of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. It could have been The Amazing Colossal Man, or its sequel War of the Colossal Beast. There was also the Lou Costello comedy The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, which featured a slightly smaller giant woman. Apparently, after The Incredible Shrinking Man, the door was now open for humans to undergo size changes in films.
For this era, the 50 Foot Woman may not be the best film, but it does hold a special place in many people’s heart. It was chronologically the next film about massive size change after Shrinking Man, but this time featuring a woman. It’s title is also very evocative, giving the audience everything they need to know about this film. It also provides a different perspective (pun intended) on the radical changes present for the lead character, but also shows it from a female perspective. While it may not be a strictly feminist film, it does switch up the gender roles usually associated with sci-fi films in the 50s, having a woman in the lead role.
This film provides some key moments that echo the genre themes from the 50s, but also creates some new thematic elements that will become standard fare in future sci-fi films. Primarily the film takes advantage of the B-movie craze of UFO’s, which are called “satellites” throughout, for whatever reason. In 50 Foot Woman, the ships are glowing spheres that contain a giant, who appears to be stealing large gemstones (like Nancy’s diamond) for the purpose of fueling his ship. The use of this trope is not completely baked however, most likely due to the quick 8-day shooting schedule for the film. The interiors of the ship look suited for the sheriff to be walking around in, but how could a 30-foot giant fit inside?
The film does play on some new concepts, with a character being exposed to radiation, or sometimes a meteor, in order to gain the power to grow larger. This is partially a throwback to the growth of animals in films such as Them!, but 50 Foot Woman has it’s own take on the process. Many other films would use similar tropes, spawned from this film, such as the Darryl Hannah/HBO remake of the film from 1993, the giantess named Giganta from the saturday morning cartoon Challenge of the SuperFriends, and the character Ginormica in the cartoon Monster vs Aliens (2009).
Probably the biggest thing this film has to say (again, pun intended) is that gigantism creates scary and evil characters. The Incredible Shrinking Man makes an attempt to have the audience identify with the lead character, invoking pity and pathos. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman does mostly the opposite. The audience never really gets to know any of the characters, and the sudden growth of Nancy does nothing to help her demeanor, in fact in exacerbates her hatred for her husband, and increases her need for control.
Putting characters in a position of control, as a giant would be of normal sized humans, is an obvious metaphor to societal strata. The “Big Boss” vs the “little man” indicate that people in positions of power tend to be elevated, and those with less power are diminished. This film goes even further and demonizing the female lead, even before the film starts. The shrinking man was “incredible” and the colossal man, even though he became evil and unstable with his increased size, was “amazing.” In this case, Nancy, the 50 foot woman, “attacks.” It’s a slight on her feminism due to her riches (her elevated status in society) and the fact that she’s already unstable when the film starts (her background of being in a mental hospital, ie. the “booby hatch,” is mentioned but not explored).
In the end of the film, the audience may feel more pathos for the philandering, gold-digging ex-husband Harry and his lover, than they do for Nancy when she dies. This is par for the course for 1958. There were still very popular ideas for where a woman’s place was, and even though Nancy was the main character, she was not the primary identifier for the audience, at least from the filmmaker’s perspective. The remake with Darryl Hannah changes this dynamic, and becomes more of a satire (much as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was) putting stronger feminist themes against standard patriarchal “norms.”
The Science in The Fiction
The film does try to create some scientific basis for the characters’ changes, but doesn’t really pay it off. Doctor Cushing, who appears to be a standard M.D., and possibly Nancy’s primary doctor, seems at ease identifying the scratches on her neck as being radioactive. That’s great from a filmmakers perspective, but how does he know this? And what does it mean? In 1958, radioactivity equaled bad, and her enormous growth proved the doctor correct. Even without any real proof.
Another element that sounds intriguing but ends up going nowhere is the giants’ use for diamonds for fuel. Initially Nancy claims the giant seemed to be reaching for her necklace. An insightful comment for a shocked and agitated victim of an attack. Knowing that a 30 foot monster was reaching for your necklace, versus just reaching for your body is an amazing skill. It seems ridiculous at the time, since what does a giant want with a little gemstone. But later when the sheriff and Jess enter the spaceship and see the gems on display, it seems to confirm the hypothesis that Nancy put forth earlier. Were diamonds the dilithium crystals of this film? We may never know!
The Final Frontier
For a film called Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the titular character doesn’t show up until 53 minutes into the 65 minute runtime. This isn’t as distracting as it may seem. For a B-movie, the film’s pacing is pretty solid. It’s just that the tease for Nancy to grow could have paid off earlier. The title tells the audience what’s going to happen, eventually! The main reason for this delay is the budget allocated for special effects. Whenever a giant is shown walking, it is the actor double-exposed against the background, which causes portions of the background, whether trees or clouds, to “bleed” through the actors image. It looks very low budget. Conversely, the miniature construction of the electrical tower and hotel that were created for Allison Hayes to stand with, making her appear to be a giant are very well done. The camera angle is low, from a normal sized humans POV, and the film is over-cranked, creating slow motion, and a feel of size and weight to her actions.
There are other, better films about characters growing in size, whether on purpose or via accidents. But Attack of the 50 Foot Woman still stands tall (yup, still punning) as the first female size change film, inspiring sci-fi and horror films into modern day.
Coming Next Week
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.