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Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Blob

The Blob is a 1958 B-movie, part of a drive-in double feature, that has gone on to a certain cult status, mainly because it was the first starring role for Steve McQueen, who plays a stalwart teenager who leads his town against a monstrous gelatinous goo from outer space. In reality, the film is comically bad, a natural for Mystery Science Theater 3000, that has long stretches of boredom between sporadic scenes of horrible visual effects.

What's fascinating about The Blob almost sixty years later is the sociological undertones. The '50s were not kind to teenage angst. The foremost film about teenage delinquency of the decade was Rebel Without a Cause, which this film is almost an echo of, but instead the "rebel" is not a rebel at all, but the most responsible person in town. Teenagers in this film are presented initially as the troublemakers--there's a drag race in the film, as in Rebel, but they race backwards.

The plot, simple as it is, is that a meteor lands in a small rural town (is was partly shot in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, which holds an annual "Blobfest"). An old man finds a small smoking rock, and he breaks it apart and gets what looks like snot on his hand. He can't shake it off, and McQueen and his girl (Aneta Corsaut, who would later play Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show) help the old man to the doctor, and then leave to try to find out more. But by the time they get back the blob has consumed the old man, a nurse, and the doctor.

McQueen tries to tell the police. One is a square deal (Earl Rowe), while the other hates teenagers. There's a malevolent line slipped in: "Just because a teenager ran over his wife on the turnpike doesn't mean it's against the law to be 17." The kids encounter the blob in McQueen's dad's store, but then it attacks the movie theater, and everybody knows it's real. It traps McQueen, Corsaut, and her little brother (a dreadful juvenile performance by Keith Almoney) in a diner, but McQueen figures out that the creature can't stand cold, so they blast it with fire extinguishers and the military drops it frozen into the Arctic. A very funny line ends the film, when McQueen says they are safe as "long as the Arctic stays frozen." "The End" comes up, with a question mark.

In addition to predicting global warming, The Blob was an attempt to subvert the horrible image of teenagers. In addition to the backwards drag race, there's also a very curious scene when Corsault's father, who is also the school principal, hops into one of the kids' cars to get fire extinguishers from the school. When he gets there, he doesn't have the keys, so director Irvin Yeaworth almost lovingly shows a close-up of the principal picking up a stone, and then breaking the window to get in. Maybe in 1958 the teens watching cheered, seeing an authority figure vandalize a high school.

The Blob has become one of the more well-remembered drive-in monster movies of the era. It was originally the opening of a double feature with I Married a Monster From Outer Space, but quickly earned top billing. In a way, the film is nostalgic, full of can-do optimism, teenagers who were heroic when the chips were down, and small-town values.

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