Thursday, October 14, 2010
Happy birthday, Jack Arnold!
It Came From Outer Space (1953). Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Tarantula (1955). The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). These films are considered to be genuine classics in the field of science-fiction cinema, distinguished by moody monochromatic cinematography, intelligent scripts and first-rate acting. Most of all, they were guided by an individual whose passion for the genre was fueled by his love of the pulp fiction magazines that he read voraciously as a kid. This director was Jack Arnold, born on this date ninety-four years ago in New Haven, Connecticut.
Before becoming Universal’s go-to director for science fiction films, Jack demonstrated a flair for the buskin, performing on stage in both on and off Broadway productions. He had ambitions of becoming a pilot but during his hitch in the U.S. Army he was sent to the Signal Corps, where he made the acquaintance of—and apprenticed under—legendary filmmaker Robert Flaherty. After being demobbed, Arnold tried his hand at directing shorts and documentaries—one of which, With These Hands (1950), garnered an Oscar nom as Best Documentary Feature that year. Three years later, Jack directed his first feature film, Girls in the Night (1953)—and ushered in an impressive career that took in both movies and television.
As a youngster who grooved on classic horror films, I saw most of Arnold’s sci-fi oeuvre mentioned in the first paragraph—not to mention some of the lesser films (but still worth a look-see) that included Revenge of the Creature* (1955), Monster on the Campus (1958—this one scared the sh*t out of me as a kid) and The Space Children (1958)—the latter featuring a political subtext that I admittedly didn’t understand until I was much older and saw it again. But Jack had a deft hand with all sort of film genres—the crime thriller The Glass Web (1953), the Audie Murphy western No Name on the Bullet (1959) and the spirited comedic farce The Mouse That Roared (1959). Heck, even if the only film Arnold ever directed was High School Confidential! (1958) he’d probably rate a mention around this joint.
But the thing that used to amuse me—even as a kid—was seeing Arnold’s name on the credits of TV shows like The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island—the guy who directed The Incredible Shrinking Man is rehearsing Bob Denver’s coconut-dropping scene! As my cohort Pam has observed in the past, “A man’s gotta eat”—Jack had previously made inroads into the new medium at the helm of a handful of episodes of (appropriately enough) Science Fiction Theater, and by the 1960s concentrated on directing (and producing) everything from Mr. Lucky to Mr. Terrific. His last credit was an episode of The Love Boat in 1984 (he also has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in 1985’s Into the Night) and though he left this world to explore new ones in 1992, he’s still held in high regard here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.
*"I'm actually doing science!"