Before getting into the amazing cinematic gem that is 1958's The Blob, I want to thank Michael and Jill at Sittin' On A Backyard Fence for giving me the opportunity to be involved in the TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon, because it is allowing me to both revisit some of my favorite pieces of cinema, while also catching up with at least one film I have never seen, in hopes of capturing a new gem. As such, my first entry focuses on The Blob, a work I have often described as a "fine wine" of the b-movie genre, because unlike many of its counterparts it is a film that seriously does seem to become more rewarding with age. Everything from the earnest attempts of the amateur church actors to the stunning performance by Steve McQueen make up for a highly watchable film, one that carries an considerable amount of believability despite being about a large mass of goo attacking a small town. Of course, much of this has to do with the aforementioned acting that contains balance of professionalism and amateurishness, thus reflecting what a small town in the grips of a natural disaster might look like, however, that is only one part of the equation. For being a film that barely clocks in at eighty minutes, The Blob is a wonderfully cinematic experience, using surprisingly thrilling special effects that seem just as real fifty years from its release, as I am sure they did when initially shocking moviegoers way back when. I would be entirely ready to call The Blob a piece of cinematic perfection purely from a structuralist standpoint, considering that a scene like The Blob invading the movie theater stand as one of the great moments in metacinema, however, this film, much like many b-movies, affords itself a high degree of social commentary under its guise of simply being a schlocky horror film. Considering its release date in 1958, it is a film decidedly coming to terms with an imminent Cold War, a ideology that literally influences the film, however, when one considers some of the other classics of Cold War horror, it becomes clear that The Blob is far from paranoid propaganda and, indeed, is something more indicative of considering lingering trauma, the fears of unquestioned authority and a general study of the pains of moving away from youthful innocence.
The Blob begins, as you may know with one of the iconic opening songs, written by a then relatively unknown musician by the name of Burt Bacharach. The upbeat and swinging song manages to become a point of irony when the film immediately shifts to an image of a young couple making out quietly in the woods. The couple Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Coursat) are young and foolish, especially Steve who gets caught in his own web of faux seduction, when Jane calls him out for using the same rehashed pick-up lines to woe her into laying in his arms. Yet, their moment of bickering and subsequent fondness are undermined when an unusually large shooting star fills the sky, one that catches the attention of not only Steve and Jane but a group of young men from town, who pass the couple, demanding that they race them backwards through the streets of town. When caught by a local deputy known by his first name Dave (Earl Rowe) Steve and Jane agree to settle down and not get into more trouble through the night, a promise that is immediately broken when they discover a man on the side of the road flailing and screaming with an arm that appears to be covered in a large mucous-like blister. Confused the two rush the man to Dr. Hallen (Stephen Chase), their local physician, who is equally baffled by the mass that appears to be expanding. Assuming that the doctor has things under control, Steve and Jane leave, but when Steve witnesses Dr. Hallen being attacked in his office, the two head to the police station to warn of an attack by some sort of monster. Given that the two have already been caught speeding, Dave and the rest of the police force are skeptical, particularly when an investigation seems to suggest vandalism and not a monster attack. Frustrated the police return the couple to their parents and plan to investigate further the next day. Steve is certain that he saw a monster and with the help of Jane, leaves his house to investigate, discover that there is indeed a large blob attacking the city. Throwing all understanding of authority to the wind, Steve wakes the town up in time to avoid a huge attack at the local theater, thus leading to the police acknowledging the problem. After a fearfully being trapped in a dining car, Steve, Jane and a handful of other people discover that the blob is fearful of cold things and using CO2 fire extinguishers, manage to keep the monster at bay long enough to have the government transport it to the frozen tundra of the arctic, with the suggestion that such a method of suppression is only temporary.
Indeed, it is the very notion of having to freeze this beast that carries the most anachronistic reference to the Cold War, wherein a decidedly scientific form of attack destroys a monster that expands inexplicably consuming humans in its path. The idea of an entity growing and consuming those around it was one of the major fears of the Cold War, especially in regards to communist rhetoric and ideology. I would posit, however, that the narrative of The Blob, is not one of a cautionary tale against the assumed threats of communism, although, a case could be made for it being a drawn out fire safety PSA! I would be more inclined to suggest that much of The Blob is concerned with dealing with lingering traumas and the affect they have on youthful bliss. Many references are made to characters having experienced loss in their past, particularly the police chief whose wife, it is suggested, died in an unfortunate traffic accident. His particularly vindictive attitude towards the teens in his town, exists because the other person in the accident happened to be young. Yet his angry disillusionment is not the only one that exists, indeed another man makes considerable note of his own angst as a World War II veteran who finds the decided decadence and indifference of late 50's America baffling and disconcerting. As such, a particular malaise seems to cloud over the town, affecting Steve, Jane and the other teenagers, not physically but emotionally, making it as though they are criminals and trouble even when at their most innocent, or in the case of Steve most inclined to help. The presence of The Blob, then comes to represent a physical manifestation of this malaise and trauma, one that the the adults and authorities in the community want to ignore, because doing so allows them to attain a degree of power and complacency through ignorance, yet when the monsters reality becomes far too large to ignore, Steve and the other young people's wild delusions of grandeur become a reality. The adults must face their literal monster(s), one that continues to grow until they learn to freeze and suppress it, although it does always carry the possibility of reemerging. Also, it is worth noting that the movie theater scene, could almost exist now as a metaphor about the way Cold War propaganda seeped into American culture, here in a very literal sense.
Key Scene: While the movie theater moment is the obvious answer here, I want to make note of a monologue Steve McQueen gives earlier in the film after the realization of the blob coming from space. He speaks about things becoming not about him and Jane, but about the universe as a whole, thus changing the meaning of every action. For a film of such a low budget and action oriented plot, this has to be one of the great existential moments of pondering ever filmed.
I had a chance to catch up with the Criterion bluray. It is spectacular and a crisp transfer. One that is almost worth nabbing for the menu screen alone and to check out more excellent posts from The Summer Under the Stars blogathon, head on over to Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film for blogs about Steve McQueen movies, as well as a ton of other great stars from the classic years of Hollywood.