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  Monster of Highgate Ponds, The Better Than A Pet Rock
Year: 1961
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
Stars: Roy Vicente, Ronald Howard, Rachel Clay, Michael Wade, Terry Raven, Frederick Piper, Michael Balfour, Beryl Cooke
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Uncle Dick (Ronald Howard) has arrived back in London after spending time away in Malaya, investigating the local flora and fauna there for the British Museum, and he's brought back a lot of stuff that needs unpacking. After visiting his nephew David (Michael Wade) and niece Sophie (Rachel Clay) they persuade him to allow them to help him with the artefacts, taking along Chris (Terry Raven), David's best friend. On arriving in the storeroom, Uncle Dick puts them to work, but what's this in a packing crate - a large egg?

The Children's Film Foundation were unafraid to seek out new innovations in their storytelling, although they still had to operate within their low budget means, which was why a work such as The Monster of Highgate Ponds was as amusing as it was. Not only because watching it from this distance offered a fascinating glimpse into the past in Britain, where children really did say things like "May I go out for half an hour before prep, mother?" to their parents at the dinner table, but because this was one of the foundation's forays into actual fantastical territory, and not simply some bloke dressed up as the resident ghost.

For as we all know, anyone like that is a wrong 'un and likely has something to hide such as a smuggling operation which will be exposed by the end of the film. Here, on the other hand, was a different kind of adventure where that egg which David looks after for Uncle Dick when the latter is away for a while on business hatches, and a stop motion dinosaur emerges. Not quite Ray Harryhausen quality, but not without charm either, thanks to its animation being produced by the British company Halas and Batchelor who after their attempts to follow up their debut feature Animal Farm came to naught, made this instead.

Apparently director Alberto Cavalcanti saw making this as a bit of a comedown after his earlier, more prestigious work which sad to say you can imagine being the mindset of many a CFF director whose career had seen better days, but with the husband and wife team of producers seeing to it that everything was composed to their satisfaction, it was by no means the disaster Alberto thought he was getting involved with. Indeed, the monster itself was a fine creation, starting as a little puppet and gradually getting larger until it turned into a man in a costume: pity the stuntman having to spend his time up to his neck in the ponds of the title.

It wouldn't be a CFF movie without antagonists, and here there were three. First, an old busybody with a yappy dog who keeps turning up at the worst possible times, usually when the creature is swimming with the boys which leads her to threaten to ruin their fun by calling the authorities. The other two were more significant, a couple of carnies who want an attraction for their sideshow and insist on trying to kidnap the monster - named "Beauty" by David, oddly - though frankly they're so inept it's a miracle they get as far into their scheme as they do. Something else notable was that in spite of this trio of menaces and all that water around, not one of them topples into the ponds, a real missed opportunity there, though perhaps H&B were seeking to break the mould with a bold new vision. Another thing they could have done was anticipate Gorgo by featuring Beauty going on the rampage through the capital, but it's a very obedient monster who only eats fish (kippers, natch). All the right people (and monsters) are well-mannered here.

[This film is available on the BFI's Weird Tales DVD compilation along with The Boy Who Turned Yellow and A Hitch in Time. Also included is a booklet containing amusing essays on the material.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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