Saturday, July 16, 2011

Beginning of the End (1957)

Like I written many times before, Bert I. Gordon is favourite director and it’s weird that I haven’t seen Beginning of the End until now, in the year 2011 dammit! Anyway, I got my hands on the excellent Hen’s Tooth edition finally and gave it a spin earlier today. Like many of Mr BIG’s other movies, it’s time for the serious critics to reevaluate his work. Sure, all us fanboys have long ago realized what a magnificent filmmaker he is, but the rest of the world need to understand this to.

So, is Beginning of the End a masterpiece, an hidden treasure of brilliance? An innovative monster movie with a message? No, I don’t think so, but it’s extremely good entertaining. The budget is low, but when even my partner looks up from the computer and say without irony “Damn, that’s really good special effects for that time!” it’s easy to understand that this movie still holds up despite its meager budget.

The film starts with a young couple making out in their car getting attacked by something big and hungry. Later the police find their car completely ripped to pieces. A young journalist, Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle), is the first one, the next day, to find out that a whole small town has met the same fate. Everyone is gone and the houses are destroyed. When researching the cause of this she meets the young hunky scientist Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves) who is experimenting with enhancing the size of vegetables. Together they discover a race of enormous grasshoppers who threatens to destroy Chicago… and maybe even the rest of the world!

In Mr BIG’s excellent memoirs you can find a whole chapter about how Beginning of the End was created and the adventures of the cannibalistic grasshoppers he used and who gradually disappeared in the mouths of each other and also a couple of positive vintage reviews of the movie. I think those reviews are very much spot on, this is a well-made little movie who uses the limitations of the budget in some very smart ways. Instead of building expensive miniatures he just made big photos of landmarks in Chicago that the creeps could crawl on, and I think it in 95 % of the cases looks really good. Way better than building miniatures on that budget! There’s also a fair amount of stock footage, mostly of explosions and military, and its used in a very creative way and works without being annoying (which I sometime can think when I’m watching re-used footage).

But like most of his movies, for example The Spider, it’s the storytelling that is the highlight, the editing and a frantic energy. There’s never time for any stupid subplots or unnecessary romance. Gordon knew what he was there for, to deliver fast and crazy entertainment for a monster-starving audience. Beginning of the End might not be the most original movie in the bunch, but it’s surely one of the most entertaining.

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