Review of “The Deadly Mantis” (1957)

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Image from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night with a Svengoolie rerun we’d never seen

Plot:

Somewhere in the South Seas, a volcano erupts. Nothing happens in isolation, of course. As they told us in junior high science class, lo, many years ago, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So, after the volcano erupting in the south, it would naturally follow that ice melts in the North Polar Region. Right? From that melting ice is released a giant praying mantis, who’s been there for millions of years.

The viewer is also treated to an illustration of systems of radar lines in Canada developed during the Cold War to warn of any incoming Soviet attack. They don’t fare so well with a giant insect seeking warming climates south. The bug attacks the outlying military instillations, ripping through roofs, plane fuselages, and one unfortunate fishing vessel before it’s done.

When a five-foot-long… something is found in a wrecked plane, eminent scientists can’t decide what it is. Colonel Parkman (Craig Stevens, soon to be Peter Gunn) calls in (what else?) a paleontologist, Dr. Nedrick Jackson (William Hopper, soon to be Paul Drake), of the Museum of Natural History. Remember how dragonflies used to be bigger and are carnivorous? This bug is the ancestor—distant ancestor—of the praying mantis. And it’s much bigger.

While the help of the Ground Observer Corps,* the Air Force tracks the bug south. Kinda hard to miss, I would think.

Thoughts:

This movie is so serious and so silly, it’s hard not to like it. Granted, the first ten or fifteen minutes is all stock footage of a volcanic eruption, icebergs calving, pilots scrambling, etc., but there was some great footage. Even later, “borrowed” footage appears of a native village menaced by the really big bug, with men leaping into their kayaks and paddling off. (How is that a rational response? Oh, I ask too much.)

The movie speaks both to a natural disaster and the resources used to fight the Cold War.

The single female character of note in the movie, interestingly enough, is the museum magazine editor/photographer, Marge Blaine (Alix Talton). She knows a bit about bugs, correctly identifying the item sent to the museum by Col. Parkman, but mostly she screams. She’s just a girl, ya know.

In short, while the movie does not have a new story to tell, it was fun to watch. This would have been a great flick to watch in a drive-in, with shots of the big bug flying, and, in one shot, crawling up the side of the Washington Monument. It also gave a nod to the Ground Observer Corps, which was dissolved the next year.

It was a delightful Saturday pizza and bad movie night movie.

*The Ground Observer Corps was a civilian defense organization, originally founded during WWII to spot incoming German and Japanese planes. It was disbanded in 1944. A second group was reorganized in 1950 to serve during the Cold War and spot Soviet aerial incursions over the United States.

Title: The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Directed by … Nathan Juran

Writing Credits
Martin Berkeley … (screenplay)
William Alland …(story)

Cast (in credits order)

Craig Stevens … Col. Joe Parkman
William Hopper … Dr. Nedrick Jackson
Alix Talton … Marge Blaine
Donald Randolph … Maj. Gen. Mark Ford
Pat Conway … Sgt. Pete Allen

Released: May 26, 1957
Length: approx. 1 hour, 19 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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