Beginning Of The End

BEGINNING OF THE END holds pride of place as one of great bad science-fiction matinees of the 50s, a spawn of the ‘radiated insects’ sub specie kicked off by the actually excellent Them! After dosing us with the immortal King Dinosaur, producer Bert I. Gordon (immortal himself, turning 100 in 2022) went full basement with The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, War Of The Colossal Beast and Attack Of The Puppet People. One of his 1957 ventures—a year jammed with dozens of sci-fi thrillers ranging from excellent (The Incredible Shrinking Man) to execrable (The Giant Claw)—was this doozy that has monstrous mutated locusts descend on Chicago. No, they’re not after “the best deep dish pizza in the USA”.

After the standard opening disposal of two teenagers, rudely interrupted by being devoured during a makeout session, girl reporter ‘Audrey Aimes’ (Peggie Castle)—she’s a photojournalist, so she Aimes her camera at stuff—happens upon the town of Ludlow, Illinois, or the smashed debris that’s left of it: every inhabitant is missing. Stonewalled by the Army (right, like they’d do that), she and scientist ‘Dr. Ed Wainwright’ (Peter Graves) find out his silly end-world-hunger project, using radiation to grown giant tomatoes and strawberries, has gone astray: area locusts sample his atom-zapped wheat and grow to Alarming Proportions Which Require Armed Intervention. Their size has changed but their appetites remain the same. Dr. Ed owed Illinois an apology (‘I wanted food for you, not you for food’). Puny attempts to hold them off with weapons don’t work (chew up a few hapless G.I.’s first, then bring on the stock footage of tanks) so it’s left to ‘Science’. Can Ed come up with a plan? Not before we get to goggle at the spectacle of a hot blonde in a bath towel getting a quick lesson in biology when a ravenous bug crashes into her high-rise apartment? Can’t a foxy chick shower safely in America? Naturally, the military (represented by Morris Ankrum’s ‘Gen. Hanson’) wants to nuke Chicago (safer than Moscow, let’s see if the damn things work), but ah, it’s lucky they planted that burg by a great big lake, one with plenty of really cold water…*

Much of the 73 minutes are devoted to boring talk (and not enough truly ripe lines of dialogue) in the script concocted by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn. Gordon, who handled the “special effects” as well as producing & directing, had 200 grasshoppers imported from Texas. But the crawly critters went cannibal, leaving a mere dozen to place on blown-up photos of Chicago landmarks like the Wrigley Building or pose magnified on a screen behind terrified neckers, panicked soldiers, frantic scientists and a half-clothed hot number who dies screaming for our sins.

                       Foreplay talk about “infestation”

Bad reviews (what else could they be?) did not stop the pasted-together cheapie from making green, as kids got a kick out of it (and teenagers had plenty of time to swap gum between bug battles). During the 60s, this played itself to pieces on TV, usually as part of a double-bill monster show done on the weekend (“yep, saw ‘er twice”, he mumbled into his milk toast).

At 29, inviting Peggie Castle, formerly a ‘Miss Cheesecake’, ‘Miss Classy Chassis’ and ‘Miss Three Alarm’, had logged 35 parts in B-pictures since 1947, including the vaunted Commie-hysteria fave Invasion, U.S.A. This was her only sci-fi entry, but Peter Graves, 31, had claimed Red Planet Mars, Killers From Space and goofy fave It Conquered The World. Somehow seeing Peter Graves blast giant grasshoppers off the Wrigley Building with a machine gun makes you remember that “Hey, is this a great country, or what?”

With Thann Wyenn, Tom Browne Henry, James Seay, Richard Benedict, Frank Wilcox and Hank Patterson. Absolute verification eludes, but diligent probing guesses that the live snack in the highrise is Patricia Dean, formerly a dancer at a Las Vegas casino.

* Morris Ankrum (1897-1964) was a familiar face of worried authority in tons of movies and TV shows for three decades, including such fun fare as Rocketship X-M, Flight To Mars, Red Planet Mars, Invaders From Mars (planet #4 getting a lot of attention), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Zombies Of Mora Tau, Kronos, The Giant Claw, Giant From The Unknown, How To Make A Monster, Curse Of The Faceless Man, Half Human, From The Earth To The Moon, The Most Dangerous Man Alive and X:The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

Hopping around—film editor Aaron Stell munched lunch on fare ranging from The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster to Touch of Evil, Love With The Proper Stranger and To Kill A MockingbirdArt is one thing, bills are another.

Keeping those locusts in focus was cameraman Jack A. Marta, unsung toiler who amassed 224 credits on film and TV.

Kids of the era related to Peter Graves not because he told us to eat our basketball-size radishes but because for five years he was ‘Jim Newton’, the Dad on TVs Fury–-so trust was implicit.  Sexy Peggie Castle could scorch WASPs. Peg was quoted: “Let’s face it. Nobody likes nice women on the screen. Nice women are dull.”  Bus-sized, chirping, carnivorous grasshoppers are not, if you’re five or six years old (though even then I could see they used some of the same shots two or three times.) To be precise (like the science in this movie), grasshoppers don’t chirp: they “crepitate”, a word my mom used to bandy in merriment—and I always figured it meant, well, something else. They also “stridulate”, so don’t tell me I haven’t provided some darn useful information.

Yummy insect version of Cracker Jacks

 

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