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Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers, Roy Gordon, George Douglas, Ken Terrell

Written By: Mark Hanna Directed By: Nathan Juran

The Short Version

You sure can’t beat the 1950s drive-in for catchy titles, can you?

That title and one of the greatest movie posters of all time have assured this flick’s immortality.

Needless to say, the movie is cheaply made and does not live up to the promise of the poster.

Viewed through modern eyes, it’s actually a pretty depressing story.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a classic, and a must for drive-in fans, but…

The Long Version

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Gets you loaded, and saves you enough money so you can afford to bribe the deputy who tries to pull you away from making out with the tramp with whom you’re cheating on your wife!

“My husband?  My gigolo!  That's what you are!  You're a miserable parasite!  You're just after my money!  I was rid of you once.  Why did I take you back?  Why?  Why?!”

Why?  Because this was the 1950s, and popular American society was like that… though come to think of it, it often still is, sadly enough.

You might think it odd to start off a review of one of the most famous sci fi exploitation titles in history on such a melancholy note, but the fact is that really, that’s exactly what Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is all about from start to finish.  That stuff suggested by the catchy title plays as an afterthought, and the fabulous poster art is (no surprise) a flat-out lie.  What you’ve got here is the story of an abused, neglected wife who, thanks to social pressures, gets to watch while her sleazy husband tries to scheme ways to separate her from her money and publicly has an affair with a two-bit tramp.  It’s actually rather depressing.

Of course, I’m certainly not going to accuse the filmmakers of anything remotely resembling an attempt at high-minded commentary on the secret angst behind the white picket fences of the Perfect 1950s.  Seriously; I know it’s all just an accident arrived at while the guys tried to figure out how to get a woman pissed off enough to justify the title they started with.  But that doesn’t change how things turned out.

Speaking of…

As our story begins, we meet Mrs. Nancy Archer (Alison Hayes, The Undead).  As the heiress to a fabulous fortune worth over $50 million (remember: that’s 1958 money!) and the owner of the world’s largest diamond (which she proudly wears around her neck), you’d think she’d be ridiculously happy.  But no; her husband, Harry (William Hudson, The Amazing Colossal Man), is a gold-digging cheat who very publicly carries on an affair with some two-bit tramp named Honey (Yvette Vickers, Reform School Girl), and Nancy’s already had one nervous breakdown because of it.  Indeed, he’s out necking with his lover right in the middle of the only club in town when Nancy, out driving on her own, encounters an alien spacecraft in the middle of the road.  When the 30 foot giant inside starts reaching for the diamond she’s wearing, she runs like hell.

Needless to say, no one believes her story about the giant alien, but Harry sees it as just the opportunity he needs to get her committed again, or perhaps even get her out of his life in a more permanent fashion.  You know what they say about hell and fury, though, and when a woman who’s already heading over the edge gets herself a dose of major alien radiation, who can say what might happen next?

Aside from people who read the movie’s title and looked at the poster, I mean…

Without question, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is one of the best remembered drive-in flicks ever made.  Even people who have no interest in the genre and have never even seen the movie know what it is, and the poster art (which is widely recognized as all-time Top 50 or better) has become so iconic that many people who would never even dream of watching the movie itself actually have the poster in their homes or workplaces.  For those who have seen it, it is often looked upon kindly as with a sense of fun at the general ridiculousness of it all.

I admit that I can see their point.

The science fiction shots take up very little of the film’s runtime, but when they show, they’re howlers.  It was always a good guess that the effects crew would partially create the illusion of a gigantic woman (and a gigantic alien man, conveniently played by the same guy standing behind the bar in the club scenes) through the magic of superimposed imagery, but this stuff is pathetic even for the drive-in.  All of the superimposed “giant” shots are see-through “ghosts” that carry no illusion of solidity at all, and the same holds true for the plain white cue ball that is the alien spaceship, for that matter.  Even filmmakers of the 1920s and 1930s had a better grasp on things than that.  Had this been called Ghost of the 50 Foot Woman, it would have worked, but as it stands, no way… except as something to facepalm over and laugh at.  Though frankly, the giant ghosts aren’t nearly as funny as the enormous foam rubber hand that stands in as a physical prop when normal sized actors need to be in the scene.  And the floppy dummy she picks up near the end?  Priceless.

It’s this kind of stuff that modern fans of these 50s drive-in flicks love.  It’s so awful that it comes out the other side as funny, and I must agree that it really should be making me smile at the very least, if not laugh out loud.

And that’s before we take the notion of proportion into consideration.  In the superimposed shots, Nancy’s height changes from moment to moment, since the filmmakers were apparently more concerned with filling the frame than with keeping their “monster” (who definitely does win in the 1950s swimsuit model department) a consistent size.  Meanwhile, though the alien spaceship is supposed to be built for and piloted by a 30 foot giant, its interior is laid out for normal human proportions; indeed, the front door barely has enough clearance to let the regular men inside.  Most striking for me, however, is Nancy at home.  When she’s put to bed, she’s normal size, and then suddenly balloons to her new 50 foot frame while unconscious.  However, despite being in a normal size bedroom, she doesn’t actually cause any destruction to the house until she stands up.  No walls are punched through, the ceiling doesn’t get smashed by the sudden inflation of her chest… nothing.  And not that I’m calling her fat (really; she looks like she’s wearing a corset even when she’s stripped down to a two piece), but you’d think the floor would have collapsed under all the extra weight…

Yeah, I know, I’m trying to make sense, but once you get to the other side of absurd, part of the fun comes from pointing out the senselessness and reveling in it.  And really, I ought to be doing just that, and yet…

For all the fun I should be having with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman as a tried and true drive-in fan, I just can’t.  Why?  Because, as noted above, the story’s just too damn depressing, and what’s more, the lead cast members are actually too good at their jobs.  Allison Hayes is brilliant as Nancy… and she never even for a moment cracks a smile or looks to be having fun.  But why should she?  She is very convincingly playing the wife who’s been psychologically stomped on six ways from Sunday.  There’s no winking or nodding here, and at that point, how can any decent person not feel sorry for her?  On top of that, William Hudson plays a very convincing jerk, which only compounds things, and when the script has his character carrying on in full view of everyone (to quite scandalous lengths by 1950s standards, I might add; that’s major necking going on in that booth, and everyone knows about the hotel room) and actually bribing the cops to avoid helping his wife, it just adds another layer of pathos.  I think the direction also comes into play here, because while director Nathan Juran (here calling himself Nathan Hertz) definitely knows how to keep a brisk pace, he does absolutely nothing in terms of creating a suspenseful atmosphere.  Instead of ratcheting up the tension that you know will eventually cause Nancy to get her revenge (or building up rage, as would be the case in a more modern thriller), the proceedings are just… sad. 

I think I would have preferred the mayhem promised by the poster, thanks.  But of course, that would have cost money, and that’s something these drive-in productions never had.

Bottom line, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is one of the best-remembered of the drive-in classics, and really, it deserves to be.  Looking at it as a piece of exploitation sci fi, it’s so ridiculous that it comes out the other side, and there’s plenty of drive-in fun to be had.  But thanks in no small part to an excellent performance by Allison Hayes, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman can also be surprisingly sad to modern eyes, at which point, maybe it is just better to look at that outrageously awesome poster that’s become a pop culture staple and leave it at that.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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