There’s something charming about it, as if all the tacky aspects of the 1950s were distilled into a fast-moving 86 minutes.
The Blob, originally titled The Molten Meteor, was intended to be a standard-issue 1950s monster/juvenile delinquents movie, expected to do no more than fill out the second half of the bill for drive-in screenings (it was originally paired I Married a Monster from Outer Space). Nothing suggested it would claim a place in film history: the director, Irwin Yeawoth, who made over 400 movies you’ve never heard of when he wasn’t producing radio shows, leading tours, or building theme parks; the score was written by Ralph Carmichael, best known for his work with Billy Graham; and the cast is largely populated by unknowns, except for a guy named Steve McQueen, who made his film debut playing a 27-year-old teenager.
Well, as Gomer Pyle would say, surprise, surprise, surprise. The Blob caught on with audiences (although not with critics) and its title tune (written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David) also became a surprise hit. Today it’s a cult classic, looked upon fondly as an entertaining example of a B movie from a more innocent time (at least for the carefree white people who populate this film). It’s even turned into a source of revenue for the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, home of the movie theatre featured in the film, which holds an annual Blobfest including a reenactment of a key scene from the film.
The story begins, as 1950s B movies often do, with two young people, Steve Andrews (McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut, later “Helen Crump” on The Andy Griffith Show), necking in a car. They see a meteor that seems to have hit pretty close to home, and rush off (in Steve’s bright-blue convertible) to investigate. Meanwhile, an old man (Olin Howland, and that is how he’s billed) finds a strange round object and pokes it with a stick, breaking it open and getting a strangely corrosive, viscous substance on his hand. Do you suppose these two events are related? Of course they are—the goop comes from the meteor, and it’s actually the Blob of the title, which absorbs any living thing it touches, growing larger in the process. It consumes the old man, the doctor (Stephen Chase) treating him, and the doctor’s nurse, and will go on to consume a substantial percentage of the population of the Pennsylvania town where the story takes place (the film was shot in and around Valley Forge, PA).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we have to have discussions about teenage hijinks, including drag racing and generally twitting the local police, because it’s much cheaper to film people talking about stuff than to have them actually do it. Steve and Jane try to inform people of the danger, but they’re just teenagers no one listens to them. Meanwhile, the Blob keeps getting bigger and bigger, invading a grocery store, a movie theatre (one of the most memorable scenes in the film), and a diner. Once the authorities are finally clued in to the danger (basically, that the town is being consumed by a pile of raspberry Jell-O), they try electrocuting it, which only serves to set the diner on fire. It also laughs at bullets (well, this is an American movie so you know somebody would try shooting it) and hydrochloric acid. Rest assured, a solution is found, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
Viewed from an artistic point of view, The Blob is nothing to write home about—the story is preposterous, the dialogue uninspired, the direction pedestrian, and the acting mostly laughable (McQueen and Corsaut do make an effort, which is more than you can say for the rest of the cast). And yet there’s something charming about it, as if all the tacky aspects of the 1950s (and again, I’m talking about the white, squeaky clean, small town 1950s) were distilled into a fast-moving 86 minutes. The Blob is also definitely fun to watch, something that can’t always be said for more highbrow films. That makes it a perfect film for the Strange Brew series, since you can down a pint while watching two well aged teenagers try to save their town. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Blob will be screened at 8:00 p.m. on August 3 as part of the Strange Brew: Cult Films at Schlafly Bottleworks series (7260 Southwest Ave, St Louis, MO 63143). Tickets are $5. Further information about tickets is available here and the film series calendar is available here.