As I watched the original version of The Blob, I was surprised to find that it is just as much a teenpic as a monster movie. In some respects, the teenage themes were even more integral to the story. The monster was as much a vehicle to showcase adolescent insecurity, conflicts with authority, and the frustration of not being heard.
The teenpic nature of the film actually fits wonderfully for the way I want to structure this blog post. Since I’m about to get going on my Blobathon, it seems fitting to have a serious post today about the teenage issues, with a fun and light post on Wednesday about the monster itself. The Wednesday post will also contrast with the monster of the 1988 version of The Blob.
The one hurdle is that you have to buy Steve McQueen, in his debut feature role at the age of 27, as a teenager. That’s the biggest sell because even then he had a grizzled, experienced face, which would serve him well in his later stardom. While it takes a little while to get used to him as a teenager, he does show signs of the acting chops and screen presence that he’ll become famous for later.
What’s interesting about the teenage protagonists in The Blob as opposed to say, Rebel Without a Cause or even Blackboard Jungle, is that the kids are relatively benign with their misbehavior. As the plot progresses into a monster mystery, the actions that would usually be associated with young hooliganism, like sneaking out with a girl or driving cars fast, are actually heroic actions in an attempt to save their town.
The film begins with Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut) up in his convertible at a lookout, gazing at the stars and enjoying each other’s company. This is a stereotypical scene of the 1950s, and usually would be seen as a place where a man would bring a girl, or a series of girls, in the hopes of one day getting lucky. Jane questions Steve on this very possibility, but he assures her that she is the first, and that he will not pressure her for romance. Even if he’s a teenager with normal hormones, he is established immediately as upstanding.
The next major scene between the teenagers is also typical juvenile behavior – a car race. A group of kids at first seem antagonistic, and they even tease Steve by dubbing him king of the road and placing a hubcap crown on his head. The tension eases quickly. They become more congenial, and even though they race, they do so in a playful spirit and the sequence ends with them friendly towards each other.
The relationship with the teenagers and the policeman are quite different from the norm. This being a small town, they know each other, and Steve addresses the ‘good’ cop as Dave rather than officer or any other title of respect. The ‘bad’ cop, Jim Bert, is nicknamed ‘Bert the Schmert’ because he is not sympathetic. Instead he is hostile and antagonistic. He refuses to believe in the monster, and blames juvenile delinquency for the strange events happening in the town.
The monster places the kids in a hopeless situation where they are the only living witnesses, but absolutely nobody will believe them. There are a few scenes where they try to convince the police. Dave is more inclined to believe then, whereas Bert plays intermediary and sways attention back onto the kids. Bert is alone in this manner of thinking, but this still contributes to confusion. The police and everybody else don’t know what to believe. There is another scene where a kid tries to warn a group of adult partiers, but they dismiss him entirely, even making fun of him by calling him Paul Revere. After several futile attempts to make people aware, Steve frustratingly wonders “How do you protect people from something they don’t believe in?”
They don’t get results until Steve and the other teenagers make enough of a ruckus to get the entire town out of bed and gathered in one area. They do this via another method of teenage misbehavior — honking their horns and making noise. Steve then appeals yet again to the police. This time Dave is a willing listener. He takes a leadership role that leads to the final outcome. The tables are turned and the adults actually save the children.
Given that this was a B-level science fiction escapist flick, with a director who had never made a fiction feature, and a lot of amateur or first time actors, The Blob overachieves. The shots may not be framed well and the editing has some issues, but the story is told effectively. The teenage themes help the audience get more invested in their fight against the red menace, and it makes for an enjoyable resolution.
Film Rating: 6/10
Commentaries: This release has two commentaries, one with Producer Jack Harris and Historian Bruce Eder, and the other with Director Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr. and Actor Robert Fields. All of the commentaries are recorded separately with no interaction, so I’m just going to list some of the highlights from each. One of the interesting highlights was how each one talked about the late Steve McQueen. They all spent quite a bit of time talking of their experiences with him, whether positive or negative. He was certainly a character, both on and off camera.
Jack Harris – Harris of course wanted to make a commercially successful film, so he intentionally combined science fiction with a teenpics. Both were playing well at the time, so he figured it would be a winning formula.
He thought McQueen had potential to be a big star, but he was too much of a “bad boy” and trying to impress people. Harris admitted that he didn’t like Steve McQueen on The Blob and would not cast him in the sequel. By the time he changed his mind, McQueen was too big for them to afford him. They became cordial later and McQueen tried to rent Harris’ house once. That was the last time Harris saw him.
He is the only one on the commentary to address the 1988 remake. He was not complimentary. The remake went in a lot of directions that the original didn’t, was too expensive and not as good.
Bruce Eder – Eder did not get as much voice time as Harris, but he did get a chance to make some Illuminating points.
He discusses some of the teenage themes. The children are the only ones who see the Blob until the end, and the police think the teenagers are the invaders. Eder thinks that McQueen’s performance came across as real on the film because he had genuine problems and irritation with the script. Those negative feelings were expressed through his performance as he tried to get heard.
Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr. –
McQueen and Yeaworth were both about the same age, and one review called them “the world’s oldest teenagers.” He had previously worked on a number of religious and educational films. They had created about a hundred 16mm films before trying their first feature.
He says that McQueen had a mercurial personality and was very “willful.” He hints at some problems on the set, although they did see each other several times later in California until Yeaworth stopped working there. McQueen seemed displeased with several aspects of The Blob, especially his salary because he made the short-sighted decision to take a smaller up-front payment rather than a cut of the profits. Yeaworth was surprised to learn that when McQueen died, the only thing found on his wall was a poster of The Blob. Surprising because he had disparaged the film because it was a B picture and he didn’t get paid what he could.
At first the movie was titled The Molten Meteor. They then changed it to The Glob, but that was taken. The next option was The Blob, which stuck. They wanted a title that people would make fun of, and they got free publicity from it.
Robert Fields – He played Tony, the apparent leader of the clique of boys that first encounters Steve.
He makes some interesting points about what he calls “Dying on Film.” He does not mean it as dark as it sounds, just that it is an expression that is used in acting fields. Actors see the aging process in their lives because they can see themselves at various points of their career. He compares this with a shoe salesman, who doesn’t see himself doing the same job at a younger age. Even though this is a dark point, he appreciates being able to see his younger, better looking self.
He shares a number of Steve McQueen stories, but they have a different angle than the rest since he was younger. He has vivid memories of riding in McQueen’s two-seater sports care, racing through winding roads at 100 mph. Robert thought of him like an older brother or a mentor of sorts. McQueen had a lot of charisma and impacted Fields’ life.
Blobabilia Wes Shank is an avid collector of memorabilia from The Blob. He has several still photos, posters, and the actual Blob that was used as a prop. The disc has a lengthy slideshow with the highlights of his collection.
Criterion Rating: 6.5