Whenever Universal decided to make a great horror movie, creature feature or not, they went all out and the results were usually spectacular. That is not to say that when they were making Creature From the Black Lagoon that greatness was their intended purpose though. The Creature and its two sequels were produced near the end of Universal’s reign of horror and more than likely, the studio was just looking to see if they could make a few more dollars from the horror-loving audience that used to come out in droves for their films. As evidenced by the existence of the two sequels, Universal, a normally tight-budgeted studio, accomplished this. It is therefore more than likely that the success of this film was by luck, though with the higher than average production values and everything else that was put into this film, you could make a case for saying that it was destined to be good.
The story is a fairly standard one where it comes to monster movies of the 1950s. It finds a group of scientists exploring an area of the Amazon in the hopes of finding a missing link. That leads them down to a black lagoon, an area where none have returned from alive previously and yet, that fact does not deter them whatsoever. What follows is an encounter with the creature and a case of shoot first and ask questions later, which is pretty terrible considering that they are scientists on the hunt for exactly what the creature represents. Much like other Universal horror films, this one has you empathizing and rooting for the creature and it is almost like a key component for their pictures by this point in time, to have the audience feel as such when watching one of these movies.
The performances were good, but much of the film’s success rested on the costume design which was created by Millicent Patrick, Bud Westmore, Chris Mueller and Jack Kevan. Out of all the the monster movies that Universal produced, the costume for the creature is perhaps the most inventive of the bunch. It has an air of authenticity and realism behind it that the Wolf Man and Frankenstein cannot lay claim to because there is every chance that at one point in time, such a creature could have existed. Did it? Probably not, but out of the three, if anything could lay claim to the possibility of being real, the Creature could. Because of this, while the movie is not as scary as it might have been sixty years ago, it gives the film another layer of horror upon the obvious which is already prevalent throughout. It is not only a fantastic costume, but an iconic one and it still stands the test of time all these many years later.
Directing this film would be Jack Arnold who had previously done very little but would go on to direct some great science-fiction films like Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man as well as a long career in television. With some great black and white cinematography by William E. Snyder, the pair would make this film quite exciting, especially with the many underwater scenes. The script by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross was good even if the story was a little clichéd at times. It would showcase some solid B actors in Richard Carlson and Richard Denning but the real star of the show, aside from the Creature, would be Julia Adams as the damsel in distress. Being both beautiful and talented, you could see why the Creature would want to take her as a mate, which you have to assume is what he wanted, though sadly, he would always be foiled by her screaming and the men coming to her rescue.
Originally shown in 3-D, the film would eventually drop that aspect which was probably for the best. The technology used those many years ago was far inferior to what it is now and while there are still movies you can watch in that format from long ago, it adds very little to those films. Like previous Universal efforts, the movie was quite suspenseful with a slow building tension that would eventually culminate with a battle against the monster. In the end, even though the monster would always lose, you always hoped it would win. It was always a sad affair, and remains so every time you happen to watch this film, or any other, but it adds to it instead of taking away from it. It is a funny thing that even though you know there will not be a happy ending, at least not in the traditional sense, and you know the tragedy that will transpire, you still watch it in the hopes that things will turn out different and that is the genius films like Creature From the Black Lagoon offer the viewer and why this film is so exceptional.