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  Deadly Mantis, The Bug 'er Off
Year: 1957
Director: Nathan Juran
Stars: Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway, Florenz Ames, Paul Smith, Phil Harvey, Floyd Simmons, Paul Campbell, Helen Jay
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: For every action there is a reaction, and an atomic bomb test in the Southern Atlantic sets in motion a course of events that sees something huge in the Arctic, frozen in the ice, revived. There is set of early warning mechanisms situated on the United States border with Canada and through that country taking the form of radar stations, ensuring that nothing will get through to the States' airspace without them knowing about it first, but at one of those snowbound encampments a problem has arisen. The men posted there have disappeared...

It was all about the giant monsters for many of the sci-fi movies coming out of Hollywood in the nineteen-fifties, and The Deadly Mantis was one of the better known ones thanks to a not bad puppet that took the role of the villain. As you might have surmised by that lengthy introduction before our story can get underway, the beast here was a stand-in for any enemy military force that might have contemplated breaching the defences of North America, I wonder who they could have been meaning? Couldn't be the Communists, could it? Anyway, movies like this were designed to show what those threats would be up against.

Which was basically good old American know-how and military might, although the Canadian (and Greenland, for that matter) equivalent was something the film was less bothered by, as it was the Yanks all the way as far as the characters went, no matter where we went in the world to track down the title creature. For some reason, despite blowing the secret of the monster from the opening titles on, the film was keen to keep its identity a mystery for the authorities to spend a good portion of the initial half of the movie trying to work out. This meant scenes started to drag early on and the plot never really recovered, as you tended to be way ahead of anyone on the screen.

Even if you were not a brainy scientist like Dr Ned Jackson (William Hopper), whose services are called upon by Colonel Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens) to figure out what they're up against, having found a bit broken off the mantis at the location of one of its rampages. Dr Ned takes ages to piece the puzzle together, leaving plenty of room for Colonel Joe to romance his photographer, Marge Blaine (Alix Talton, rather more mature than the leading ladies usually to be expected in this type of thing). Meanwhile, once the monster has been identified, it's a matter of catching it, or at least shooting it down as it flies from the North Pole to the East Coast of the States.

This involves wading through a lot - a LOT - of stock footage of military manoeuvres that the moviemakers used to pad out what was already a pretty slim storyline, rendering what might have had some semblance of slickness a rather make-do air. All the cash might have been spent on that mantis puppet, to be fair, and they got their money's worth because it's the highlight of the production, a little clunky, sure, but one of the more amusing foes to show up in this era's sci-fi. Such a pity the humans trying to bring it down were drawn so obviously from stock, as much as that footage was, with nary a spark of personality between them, filling a hole in the narrative rather than offering us someone to make a connection with, other than their need to save their fellow citizens from the threat. That said, the climax where the Mantis is lurking in a Manhattan tunnel is nicely atmospheric, but probably not worth spending the rest of the running time waiting for that.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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