Title: The Giant Claw
Year of Release: 1957
Director: Fred F Sears
Length: 75 mins
Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Lou Merrill, Edgar Barrier
1947 was a pivotal year in the development of the human race in many ways. Two separate incidents occurred that had a profound effect on popular culture (in particular writers and filmmakers) and, if you believe some of the conspiracy theorists, science and technology. First, in June, there was the Roswell incident. Then, the following month, Kenneth Arnold made his famous UFO sighting and inadvertently coined the phrase ‘flying saucers’. These two seismic events, coming so soon after World War II was effectively brought to a sudden halt by America’s two-pronged nuclear assault on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had a wide-ranging influence on America’s psyche, and by extension, the rest of the world. It was a period of great change and infinite possibilities. Over the next decade countless movies tried to tap into this rich vein of fear, paranoia and uncertainty running through the public consciousness, and The Giant Claw (sometimes referred to as the Mark of the Claw) is a fine example.
Whilst engaged in a radar test flight, civil engineer Mitch MacAfee (Morrow, who also starred in the Twilight Zone episode Elegy) spots what he thinks is a UFO. Three jet fighter aircraft are scrambled to pursue and identify the object, but one goes missing. Officials are initially angry at MacAfee over the loss of a pilot and jet over what they believe to be a hoax. When MacAfee and mathematician Sally Caldwell (Corday) fly back to New York, their aircraft also comes under attack and crash lands in the mountains. A farmer (Merrill) comes to their rescue and tells them about a local legend speaking of huge birds. Again, MacAfee’s report is met with skepticism, but the authorities are forced to take his story seriously when several more aircraft disappear. They discover that instead of some alien craft, a gigantic bird “as big as a battleship” purported to come from an anti-matter galaxy, is responsible. MacAfee, Caldwell, Dr. Karol Noymann (Barrier), and General Considine (Ankrum) set to work finding a way to defeat the seemingly invincible creature before it wreaks havoc on America. They are partially successful, and eventually invent a weapon capable of killing the creature, but not before it strikes at the very heart of capitalism by attacking New York. This is when it becomes obvious that the giant bird is a damn commie (on a subliminal level, the monstrous entity also probably represents the looming, destructive fear of the unknown, which is arguably the same thing) because it wastes no time venting its fury on the United Nations building during a cheesy, yet fun-filled and strangely intoxicating climax.
The movie was distributed by Columbia Pictures as a double feature with The Night The World Exploded (1957) and was directed by Fred Sears, a legend of the B movie genre most famous for Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956) and Rock Around the Clock (1956). Tragically, shortly after The Giant Claw was released he was found dead by a security guard in the washroom of his office at Sunset Studios of Columbia Pictures at the age of 45. By then, he had directed over fifty films and acted in many more, usually in uncredited roles. According to Richard Harland Smith of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the inspiration for the story may have been taken from media reports about scientific discoveries in the field of particle physics, dealing with matter and antimatter. Other influences included the Japanese film Rodan (1956) and the Samuel Hopkins Adams story “Grandfather and a Winter’s Tale,” about a mythical bird-like creature prominent in French-Canadian folklore called la Carcagne, which appeared in the January 1951 issue of The New Yorker.
Critical reception was extremely negative, with the special effects in particular roundly mocked. Film writer and historian Bill Warren commented, “This would have been an ordinarily bad movie of its type, with a good performance by Jeff Morrow, if the special effects had been industry standard for the time. That, however, is not what happened. The Claw is not just badly rendered, it is hilariously rendered, resembling nothing so much as Warner Bros. Cartoon-character Beaky Buzzard. Once seen, you will never forget this awesomely silly creation.”
Jeff Morrow later confessed in an interview that no one in the film knew what the monster looked like until the film’s premiere, since it was added later. Morrow himself first saw the film in his hometown, and hearing the audience laugh every time the monster appeared on screen, left the theatre early, went home and started drinking.