Building My Movie Posters Puzzle: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
In late June of last year I took advantage of some free days to visit my Mother in Virginia for her birthday. It was a fun long weekend that included meals out, a screening of Finding Dory, and an unexpected shared activity when I ran across a puzzle in the book store that was just too good to pass up. It consists of thirty-nine posters from a wide variety of classic films stretching from the silent era of the 1920s into the 1970s. It was an engrossing project to undertake alongside my Mother and we naturally discussed several of the featured movies as we built it. What stunned me a little was that I had actually only seen twenty-six of the thirty-nine films honored. I have vowed to fill these gaps in my knowledge of film and take you along for the ride as I reconstruct the puzzle in question. I’ll re-watch the movies I’ve already seen along with experiencing the ones that are new to me and share my thoughts on each one.
This puzzle sure has a lot of genre and “B” pictures represented, doesn’t it? It’s sort of a mixed bag, including the aforementioned populist fare alongside Oscar bait pictures, classic comedians, and yes some truly great films. Aside from pointing out that there’s nothing here from after the 1970s, you can’t really complain that it isn’t trying to be genre inclusive. Today we’re looking at a movie that, in my personal experience, is actually more famous for its poster than for the film it was created to promote. During my twenties I seem to remember this poster cropping up on the walls of plenty of my female friends’ apartments. I’m not sure how many of them had actually seen the movie, but the poster in itself could certainly be interpreted as an expression of female strength. Being that it was written, directed, and produced by men in 1958, I don’t think it should be much surprise that Attack of the 50 Foot Woman doesn’t quite live up to its iconic advertisement’s implied promises.
But hey, if you’re making a puzzle of famous movie posters, I’ve got no argument against including this one. It is memorable enough to have been referenced or satirized many times over, including on the cover of an Avengers comic book featuring the Wasp character using a suit that allowed her to also grow to gigantic size back in 2007.
The man who created the original poster, Reynold Brown, was in fact one of the more successful movie poster artists of his time, creating art for well-known films such as Creature From the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth, Man of a Thousand Faces, Ben-Hur, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Spartacus, and The Alamo. His poster art was popular enough that an entire book featuring it was published in 2009 with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman emblazoned on the cover.
I went into my first viewing of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman expecting something campy along the lines of many of the other low-budget genre pictures of the era in which it was produced. There was some of that to be had, largely in some of the characters and performances and in the limited success with which they were able to create the necessary special effects. Once the title character gains her fantastic size, some of the limitations of the era and the production’s budget become even more obvious.
Initially, we don’t get a full look at her whole form. Instead we just get a few glimpses at an oversized paper mache hand. It’s the kind of ludicrous special effect that Tim Burton spoofed to excellent effect in his paean to low-budget movie-making, Ed Wood. Only the over the top horror movie reaction from her nurse saves one of these scenes. Just one question, though: How does the rest of the body that goes with that hand fit in that room?
Once she breaks the chains keeping her at home, Nancy busts out and goes looking for her philandering husband, Harry. As you can see in the above image, the effect they used to make it look like she’s huge results in making her translucent. The same result is obvious when another super-sized figure is on screen. Unfortunately, the scale is all over the place too, with no consistency at all. Nancy doesn’t just grow to one large size and stay there. She’s apparently on a very unique yo-yo diet.
But of course most of this is just in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Nancy and her podunk California town never get to investigate what it’s like for her to make any attempt to live there comfortably and co-exist with its denizens politely while she’s fluctuating between twenty and sixty feet in height. Instead we get at least forty-five minutes that is mostly a domestic drama about Nancy, who is a miserable alcoholic, but wealthy woman (one who just happens to own the most famous and expensive diamond in the world) and the man who has been cheating on her unrepentantly. There’s a little trouble with characterization here if you want to position Attack of the 50 Foot Woman as an even mildly feminist story. For starters, there’s not much indication here that Nancy would be happy and well-adjusted if her husband wasn’t cheating on her. Secondly, having that as the focus of the story suggests that a satisfying home life is really the primary concern of women in general and makes her eventual eponymous attack feel like it’s positioned as a hysterical overreaction. Meanwhile, her husband Harry and his selfish mistress are flatly unsympathetic. There are more noble and competent side characters, but none of them is developed enough to form an attachment to. Unfortunately, we’re really not left with any central character to truly empathize with.
One of the era-specific oddities of the script that stuck out like a sore thumb is how Nancy and everyone else in her little town continually refer to the alien spacecraft she encounters as a “satellite.” Nowadays anybody with a high school diploma knows that word by definition indicates an object that is in orbit around another, which would be an odd way to describe a space ship carrying a fantastic alien being. The explanation, of course, is very much attached to the ethos of the time in which the movie was released. Just seven months prior to the opening release date of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the Soviet Union had succeeded in launching the first man-made satellite, Sputnik.
The event caused some panic in the Unites States, both because the layperson wasn’t entirely sure how this would effect our security and because it suggested that we were falling behind the Soviets in science and military technology. This same sense of paranoia would help to motivate our eventual forays into space and drive to be first to land on the moon. Since it was a satellite we were scared of at the time, the actual meaning of the word was easy to ignore in the context of a B movie.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was profitable enough at the box office at the time of its release to motivate some talk about a sequel, but that project never got past the script writing stage. After a second abandoned attempt at remaking the film in the 80s, an updated version starring “What the Hell Happened” subject Darryl Hannah in the title role was directed by Christopher Guest of Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman fame and debuted on HBO in December of 1993.
This satirical re-working of the original story was generally considered more up-to-date. The humor definitely lands in spots, but at times you would have to have seen the original to appreciate it, and well, as little as that original seems to have to do with any remotely feminist issue nowadays, this 1993 remake is kind of ham-fisted in trying to cover the topic appropriately while maintaining both its campy humor and its forward momentum. Some tighter editing could easily trim several minutes off the running time and make it all move along at a better pace that would make the jokes land in quicker succession.
It’s hard for me to really recommend either of these movies as an individual piece of cinematic storytelling, but I have to admit that I’m glad I’ve finally got first hand knowledge of the movie behind one of the most famous movie posters in film history. The original movie is available for rental through iTunes and the 1993 remake starring Darryl Hannah can be seen for free on YouTube if you want to take a little look at some big ladies.
Posted on June 20, 2017, in comedy, Movies, Nostalgia, reviews, trailers, TV and tagged Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Building My Movie Posters Puzzle, Christopher Guest, Daniel Baldwin, Darryl Hannah, Giant-Girl, Reynold Brown, sputnik. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.