Although this is a very low budget 1950s monster movie with laughable special effects and some hokey acting, The Giant Gila Monster is a very pleasing film, with an engaging story. Basically a story of a boy, his hot-rod and a Giant Gila Monster, directed by Ray Kellogg, who also gave us The Killer Shrews (also 1959) and the unfortunate but memorable The Green Berets (1968). The first of these is notable for its dogs that are meant to be giant shrews, and its star James Best, better known as the incompetent Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard. The second is notable as a truly bad John Wayne movie, which is probably the only pro-war film about Vietnam. Ray Kellogg himself was a military cameraman who covered the Nuremberg Trials. After the real horrors of death camps and Nazi cruelty, giant lizards and killer shrews would have been light relief.
The teen star of TGGM is one Don Sullivan. His film career only lasted about six years, but included The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959), Curse of the Undead (1959) and Teenage Zombies (1959). One of his movies I really need to see is The Rebel Set (oh look, 1959), a story of three beatniks who try to rob an armoured car. Sounds like pure gold. I like a heist movie as much as anyone, and anything with beatniks in really sends me, like far out, dad.
After giving up the silver screen, Sullivan apparently became a leading cosmetic chemist, and only died about a year ago. He's no great actor or major talent, but he provides just what this movie wanted, Chase Winstead, a teenager who only wants to do the right thing. Unusually for a film of this period, the young people are all good, with not a JD in sight. Some of the adults don't think so much of them, but they are the ones proved wrong in the end.
|Chase and The Sheriff have a knees-up|
The story opens with two teens necking in a car which is promptly trashed and flattened by the monster. In another unusual turn of events, the hunt for the missing teens is pivotal to the plot. In so many of these films, the opening scene of destruction is not relevant to the plot, but is just a taster for the audience. The father of the missing boy puts pressure on the local sheriff to find his son, and the sheriff goes about his search in a methodical and undynamic fashion. Chase, the local teen mechanic, hot-rodder and nascent pop singer is much more useful.
There are plenty of scenes of record hops, malt shops and hot-rods to satisfy fans of American Fifties youth movies, and the monster appears often enough to be a threat, although we're never remotely scared by it. The acting is all tolerable, but nothing special, and the action skips along gently over around 75 minutes without challenging us in terms of complexity or ideas. It's a very gentle monster movie all round really. There's even a scene where Chase sings to his disabled little sister, who has just been bought her first set of leg braces. Chase is a beacon of goodness in this movie, but it's not made a big deal of.
|That's lizards for you|