Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
by Steve Habrat
Today’s audiences look back at most of the drive-in science fiction films of the 1950s with mean-spirited chortles and dismissive responses. A good majority of the negativity is aimed at the giant creature films that played mostly to an audience of teenagers who were too busy necking in the backseat of their father’s car to even care what was happening on the screen. While many of these films are deserving of a bit more praise than they receive (Godzilla, Tarantula, Them!, The Blob), there are still those B-movies that deserve the giggles that erupt at the mere mention of their title. One of those films would be the ultra-cheap and ultra-campy 1958 effort Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, a cult film that is so unbelievably bad, it’s actual sort of entertaining…if you’re inebriated to the point of being blacked out. Directed by the indifferent Nathan Juran for a measly $88,000 dollars, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is comprised of some of the worst special effects you may ever see (yes, even worse than something you might have seen in an Ed Wood movie), tongue-in-cheek performances, and a warning to every male viewer that there is nothing more terrifying than a woman scorned. It is a genre film so laughable, not even a die-hard fan could show it any affection.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman introduces us to the extremely wealthy, stunningly beautiful, but severely troubled Nancy Archer (played by Allison Hayes), who is just coming off a recent stay in a sanitarium and is battling a drinking problem. To make things worse on poor Nancy, who is also the butt of every joke told by the locals, her husband, Harry (played by William Hudson), is a drunken philanderer constantly hatching schemes with his side girlfriend, Honey Parker (played by Yvette Vickers), to milk Nancy of her millions. Late one night, Nancy is driving home through the desert when a strange orb of light suddenly appears in the middle of the highway. Nancy proceeds to investigate the ball of light and she discovers that it is actually a flying saucer. Suddenly, a giant alien emerges from the craft and reaches for Nancy, terrifying the poor girl almost to death. Nancy reports the sightings to skeptical Sheriff Dubbit (played by George Douglas) and his dimwitted Deputy, Charlie (played by Frank Chase), but everyone just waves the poor girl off. Spotting an opportunity to get rid of Nancy for good, Harry pretends to believe Nancy’s story, so he drives her out into the desert to help her look for the spaceship. To both Nancy and Harry’s surprise, they end up finding the ship and the alien, who emerges and tries to attack. The terrified Harry flees the scene, leaving Nancy stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Nancy manages to find her way home, but after a few days in a coma, she awakens to find that she has grown into a giant.
At a scant sixty-six minutes, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman seems to drag on forever. The film’s poster advertises a giant Nancy terrorizing a freeway overpass and snatching up terrified citizens but nothing like this ever occurs in the actual film. The action finally kicks in during the final fifteen minutes of the film and the special effects that accompany this action are just about as amateur as they come. We are treated to a looped shot of Nancy strolling from the left side of the screen to the right side, all while the landscape bleeds through her faintly transparent image. It is extremely clear that the filmmakers just layered a shot of Nancy and a landscape shot to give the illusion of a giant woman stomping around this small town. To make things worse, when Nancy reaches for someone or something, a giant papier-mache hand dips into the screen and shakes to fool the viewer into thinking the fingers are moving around. It is absolutely hilarious. While the action provides plenty of laughs, the bulk of the film finds the two uninteresting main characters trapped in a severely dysfunctional marriage. It is clear that Juran is attempting to make Nancy’s transformation all the more powerful and significant, but it is so tongue-in-cheek that it never hits with the force it intended to.
To make things worse for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the cast of the film seems completely confused as to what the tone of the film actually is. Some of them play things completely straight while others seem like they are ready to burst out laughing at all the absurdity. Hayes goes full hysterical as Nancy, an emotional wreck that is pushed over the edge when no one will believe her saucer man story. Hudson doesn’t seem to know if he should fully embrace darkness or if he should just laugh as Nancy’s unfaithful husband. Douglas falls on the serious side as Sheriff Dubbit, who spends most of his time just looking confused or aiming a shotgun off screen. Chase is full on cheese as the corrupt Deputy who has a hard time refusing a bribe from the oily Harry. Vickers seems eager to prove her acting chops as the bombshell Honey, but she seems like she is ready to crack up with Hudson. We also can’t forget Ken Terrell as Nancy’s loyal butler, Jess, who is said to have been in her family for years but doesn’t look a day over forty. Otto Waldis also hams it up as Dr. Heinrich Von Loeb, a specialist called in to treat Nancy’s mind-boggling condition. Waldis spends most of his scenes stammering through a thick German accent and just shaking his head in astonishment.
As if confused performances, poor pacing, and bottom-of-the-barrel special effects weren’t enough to topple Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the script itself completely levels the entire project. It is absolutely loaded with one idiotic moment after another. How exactly does a fifty-foot Nancy fit into her bedroom and more importantly, when did she have time to stop and make an outfit for herself? And how is Nancy so completely clueless to the fact that her husband is a giant scumbag? Oh, and what is the deal with the giant bald alien always reaching for someone? And how does a GIANT ALIEN manage to walk around in that tiny space ship?! Don’t trouble yourself with any of these questions; you’ll never get an answer. All you can do is laugh. Overall, while there is some thought put into the script, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman never shows a hint of the depth that some of the Atomic Age science fiction films possessed. It seems to be suffering from a severe identity crisis, wondering if it should just fully embrace its own absurdity or if it should remain straight-faced until the very last shot. This is a midnight cult classic that just doesn’t deliver the nacho-cheese fun that it should.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is available on DVD.
Posted on June 4, 2013, in REViEW and tagged 1958, allison hayes, b-movies, cult classics, frank chase, george douglas, horror, ken terrell, nathan juran, otto waldis, science fiction, william hudson, yvette vickers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.