(1958) Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.; Written by Theodore Simonson and Kay Linaker; Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe and Stephen Chase; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“We were too stupid to think we could fail, so we succeeded.” – Jack H. Harris (Producer)
The Blob may never be regarded as a classic among stuffier cliques, but it’s notable in its own right as one of the finest teen monster flicks. The Blob succeeds within its modest goals because it treats its characters with respect and never forgets that the film’s target audience just wants to have a good time. As with many low-budget independent movies, the road from concept to production was fraught with numerous obstacles.
First-time producer Jack H. Harris aimed to combine the sci-fi and juvenile delinquency genres in one movie. He hired Theodore Simonson and Kay Linaker to flesh out a script, retaining the original concept of a liquid, cosmic mass that grows as it ingests every human it encounters. Strapped for funds, Harris took out a second mortgage on his house and cashed the family life insurance policies. Harris enlisted the aid of Pennsylvania-based Valley Forge Studios to shoot The Blob (its working title was The Molten Meteor). Although the studio had no previous experience with feature-length motion pictures, they had created 3,000 religious short films. Directorial chores for The Blob were relegated to Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.,* who had only helmed one other film. Shooting commenced in 1957,** on location in nearby Chester Springs and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Attempting to complete The Blob on schedule and within budget only proved to be half the battle. The film was initially turned down by all the major studios, but Paramount eventually picked it up for distribution as part of a double bill with I Married a Monster from Outer Space.
* The Blob would prove to be the first (and arguably best) of Yeaworth’s three collaborations with producer Harris.
** By the time The Blob reached theaters, it was already 1958, which explained the inconsistency of the 1957 calendar on the wall of the police station set.
While shooting wrapped in only 30 days, it took six months to create the unique special effects featured in the film. The filmmakers relied on ingenuity and experimentation to bring the cosmic menace to life. The Blob itself was fashioned from a weather balloon in the film’s early scenes, and red-colored silicone in the later scenes. The monster stands apart in The Blob because it’s not the typical man-in-suit variety, but a faceless, amorphous shape with no recognizable link to Earth-bound life. By virtue of creating a creature whose design was simplicity itself, the effects crew introduced something that was truly frightening and original.
Aside from the titular creature, one of The Blob’s greatest strengths is the performances of the lead performers, Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut as teenage protagonists Steve Andrews and Jane Martin, respectively. Although the actors were well into their 20s, they managed to do a credible job of capturing the angst and mischievousness of their youthful characters. McQueen, who studied acting under Strasberg, was ambivalent about working on a relatively low-profile project such as The Blob, and gained a reputation for being difficult to work with. Despite any misgivings, however, McQueen turned in an excellent performance, which proved to be a pivotal role for the then-unknown actor, and would lead to bigger and better things as a result.
There are also some nice supporting performances by veteran actors Olin Howlin (in his final film role), as the old hermit who becomes the Blob’s first victim, and Stephen Chase, as Dr. T. Hallen, who futilely attempts to help the old man. Also noteworthy is Earl Rowe (appearing in his only feature film credit), as the amiable Lieutenant Dave. Unlike his peers at the police station, he’s willing to give Steve the benefit of the doubt, and entertain the notion that there could be something (other than delinquent teenagers) endangering the town. His character adds some dimension to a genre where authority figures are generally viewed as the enemy.
The Blob is not a perfect film, but it was never meant to be. It rises above many other teen monster flicks, thanks to good pacing, smart characters, and a sense of fun, contributing to its much-deserved status as a minor classic. Subsequent efforts to revive The Blob have met with mixed results. The original film spawned a belated, unnecessary sequel in 1972 Larry Hagman-directed Beware! The Blob, as well as an excellent 1988 remake (although Jack Harris wasn’t a fan), which was co-written by Frank Darabont and directed by Chuck Russell. In a Criterion DVD commentary recorded in 2000, Harris mentioned a proposed television project was in the works (we’re probably fortunate that this never saw the light of day). It probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to hypothesize that right now, a studio executive is gauging if the time is ripe for yet another re-imagining. No matter which form it may take, however, I’ll always hold special affection for the original, warts and all.