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31 Monsters #22: The Giant Claw

October 22nd, 2009 No comments

Sometimes it’s the little things that trip us up. And sometimes, as in the case of The Giant Claw, it’s the big, honking things.

Producer Sam Katzman was credited with more than 240 films: westerns, serials, horror, sci-fi, teen exploitation and even a couple of Elvis musicals. More germane to this discussion, he brought together Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer for their first two collaborations, It Came from Beneath the Sea and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

But for The Giant Claw–the story of a colossal antimatter bird from outer space–Katzman went elsewhere for his special effects. Specifically, he went to Mexico, where he commissioned a low-budget effects house to craft his world-smashing interstellar beast.

And the results? Well, they were not good.

Now, truth to tell, The Giant Claw was otherwise a respectable entry in the late ’50s space monster sweepstakes. It had a solid cast of genre performers: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum and Robert Shayne. The story itself was pretty by-the-numbers, even a bit dull. If you come to it looking for a Plan Nine from Outer Space laugh fest you’ll find much of it disappointing.

But then there’s the bird, a ludicrous, mohawk-sporting, turkey buzzard marionette suspended by extremely visible wires.┬áThe lore has it that none of the cast had seen the monster footage until the movie was released, and that Jeff Morrow sneaked out of the theater halfway through the premiere.

And no wonder. For an overview of the special effects highlights, look no further than the trailer.

Unfortunately, it cut away just before one of the goofiest effects scenes, one in which the Claw carried off a train like a string of sausages.

The Giant Claw remains a poster child for how one aspect of a production can bring down the entire enterprise. If Harryhausen had been put to work on The Claw, the film would likely be a fondly remembered artifact of the ’50s. But he wasn’t, and therefore those who remember The Giant Claw do so for less charitable reasons.

Not that I would recommend such a thing, but if you really want to watch the scenes that don’t involve a Mexican turkey buzzard puppet, the entire flick is available on Google Video.