When audiences in 1957 got a look at the monster in Fred F. Sears’ The Giant Claw, they “went into hysterics.” It was enough to make star Jeff Morrow sink into his seat in hopes of not being recognized, with the “feathered nightmare on wings” chewing the hell out of the Empire State Building and the United Nations building and heaven knows what else.
Today, The Giant Claw is a Z-movie classic. Its screenplay by Paul Gangelin and Samuel Newman is the kind of grey procedural needed to enable a monster more stupid-looking than scary-looking. And its performances by Morrow and Playboy Playmate Mara Corday do the trick in terms of stiff tenacity.
Morrow stars as the dutiful Mitch MacAfee, civil aeronautical engineer extraordinaire. He’s doing radar testing at the North Pole with mathematician Sally Caldwell (Corday) when reports of an unidentified flying object swarm the station. Soon, aircraft go missing. Caldwell and MacAfee head home, but their plane is attacked by an unknown feathered obstacle.
MacAfee tries to report what he’s experienced, but nobody believes him. The disappearance of several other aircraft bolsters his resolve, however, and soon the military has no choice but to believe his story. When a gargantuan birdie, seemingly a visitor from an antimatter galaxy, starts attacking people, MacAfee and Caldwell spring into action.
As with most of the science fiction from the 1950s, The Giant Claw is couched in the idea that technology is changing things – and not necessarily for the better. The narrator, Sears himself, talks of how science has made “man’s lifetime bigger” while making the world smaller. Conceptual chatter about the asymmetry of matter and antimatter adds another layer.
In this indefinite world, time has lost all meaning. And the being of The Giant Claw doesn’t care, with its radar-avoiding ambiguity and grousing proclivity. It sashays through the air like an unsightly cross between a vulture and a turkey, its strings moving it over some kind of alternate universe.
Of course, the Mexican-made creature unleashes a “fantastic orgy of destruction never before seen” and it’s up to the heroes to stop the plumy demolition before it’s too late. This allows for many moments of “figuring it out,” with MacAfee and Caldwell working through their options. At one point, they even track down the nest.
Outside of the airborne carbuncle, there’s not a lot to The Giant Claw. Morrow and Corday are intermittently amusing, but their relationship is on the dry side – apart from a kiss the dude sneaks on the plane – and the scientific finagling is tedious. Only Corday’s sharpshooting steers things above the monotony.
Sears works a capable style and cinematographer Benjamin H. Kline keeps it simple, with few inventive shots. The lush buzzard is revealed in a masticating display and Kline’s lens captures the plunging parachuters as they reach their dinnertime doom. The wide shots of urban annihilation are also fun.
The Giant Claw is worth seeing for those seeking stupidity in their sci-fi. It’s a camp classic and its creature is one of the most inadvertently hysterical monsters in history, especially when its massive maw fills the screen with squealing rage. It’s a short flick, too, and that helps this screeching, blundering affair go down easy.