Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is one of those movies that everyone is quite culturally aware of even if they have never seen the film, which was certainly the case for me up until last night, yet I could have identified a shot of a towering woman next to power lines with very little difficulty. As a B-movie, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman suffers from some absolutely awful special effects, while also possessing some moments of incredibly captivating cinematography and experimentation, a moment involving a crystal ball immediately comes to mind. Given the title of the film alone, it is really obvious as to why it would be included in this month of women in film blog posts, yet clocking in at barely over an hour, I was taken back by how little of the narrative is focused on the iconic image that every seems to glean from the film. In fact, for being a film with such a straightforward title, it is ostensibly about a couple of guys dealing with the wrath of a woman, whose vengeance is more than justified. It is of course a movie from the fifties, and a B-movie at that, it is always a dangerous risk to assume that any film from that era and style is anything but highly misogynistic. Of course, that is not to entirely dismiss the film, considering that its metaphor on woman uprising against the wrongdoings of her husband, when it does occur, is with such intensity and commitment that its almost as large as the woman to which the title refers. I would never place this film on the same very high pedestal as that of Carnival of Souls, but I do think that its much better than simply a cult classic and exists as a very key text when considering the depiction of women, particularly within American cinema. It also manages to keep within the framework of the fear of the unknown, in this case, giant martian aliens, as a metaphor for concerns of nuclear fallout and the Cold War. Sure a thousand arguments could be made for how Attack of the 50 Foot Woman could have been so much more than what is offered, but to be fair, it also could have been so much less, what is given is considerably revolutionary, if not quite hilarious at times.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman focuses primarily on a town whose recent visitation by aliens, in the desert at the outskirts of their town, seems to affect little in relation to their daily lives. In fact, the opening sequence of a newscaster explaining what exactly is occurring in regards to the giant orbs and martians occupying space outside the town, yet, aside from a few passive mentions of it, the townsfolk seem quite indifferent to its existence, instead, spending much more time focusing on the issues and arguments of a popular couple in town. The two people in question, Nancy (Allison Hayes) and Harry Archer (William Hudson) are constantly at odds with one another, particularly Nancy towards Harry, who is seemingly always attempting to win over the affections of a much younger woman named Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers). In an attempt to ignore the face of reality, Nancy continually consumes alcohol and bemoans Harry for his actions, yet in his slick ways, Harry always flashes his charm to get Nancy to forgive him in the end. However, when she returns from a drive out to the desert spouting about seeing a giant green man, Harry believes her to have completely insane and, as a result, drugs her into submissive indifference. Problems grow, literally, when the drugs Harry has given Nancy begin to react to something in her body, which it is later revealed changed upon her encounter with the martian in the desert. A series of doctors and nurses come in with the intent of fixing the problem, however, as she continues to grow the efforts fail and a giant version of Nancy breaks from the confines of her chains and begins a quest to find Harry. The enlarged version of Nancy is so focused in her goal that she begins, unintentionally trampling everything in her path, much to the distress of two hapless cops, until she makes it to the bar where Harry is hanging out with Honey. Harry attempts to shoot at Nancy to no avail, and grabs him from the bar and raises him above her head. It is not until a cop uses a riot gun to blow up electrical wires onto Nancy that she is subdued and returned to regular size, killing both herself and Harry in the process, but as an onlooker notes, she has finally obtained the one the she desired, the sole possession of her husband.
The main embrace of this movie is rather obvious in its clearly stated metaphor. A woman grows to incomprehensible proportions and exacts her wishes and desires upon a man who has to a great degree done her wrong, particularly in his willful infidelity and indifference to destroying her body in the name of comfort, but considering that this portion of the narrative is so very brief, it is important to consider the larger commentaries of the film. Firstly, it does ask questions about what role a woman has in deterring her husband from doing wrong by her, when she has little power within a societal or legal context. Essentially, Nancy is able to bemoan the actions of her husband but cannot forbid him from doing so, similarly, the town seems to look down on Harry's relationship with Honey, yet they also know that it is out of their jurisdiction to correct his behavior and, purposefully, play ignorant to Nancy inquiries. While the out-lash is blown to giant proportions, again, very literally, it is quite possible that the film connects a link between violent and single-minded outbursts, in this case the trampling of cars, power lines and buildings, to being tantamount to a fit of alcohol induced rage on the part of Nancy. Nancy is indeed a lush, the film makes that quite clear, and, in fact, serves as the major factor into peoples refusal to believe her initial claims about seeing giants. The problems faced by Nancy and Harry also find themselves comfortably entrenched within class privilege, their house is extravagant and Nancy possesses both fine jewelry and enough money to be a functioning alcoholic, therefore, they can also comfortably blow their issues out of the water, where as, others would be forced to internalize such issues, particularly women, whose reliance on men would require them to cower in fear and dependency, as opposed to blow up in revolution and independence. Nancy is not the ideal figure for woman's radical stand against the patriarchy, yet considering the time period and her well-to-do status she is the realistic figure. If it were not for the rather defeatist, and clear homage to King Kong, ending, its frank consideration of privilege and societal navigation, and, ultimately, reconsideration of gender power dynamics would be damn near perfect.
Key Scene: When Nancy finally breaks out of the house, her destruction of the domestic is so well realized and visually driven that it is hard not to revel in its occurrence.
This is an awesome b-movie that stands in considerable opposition to the male-oriented works of the same time, if only for the last ten minutes. What makes it greater is that it has some moments of visual magic that are quite fresh to even by expanded cinematic palette. I highly recommend grabbing a copy for your collection.