The Giant Claw's Mara Corday, McFarland Books

My highest recommendation!
If you see only one cheesy, half-baked 1950s sci-fi movie this year, make it The Giant Claw! The ultimate Saturday night, popcorn-making, wait til everyone else is asleep movie!

The Giant Claw (1957)

Mitch MacAfee, a cocky test pilot, figures out how to use his fancy degree in electrical engineering to build the world's first mesic atom gun while Sally Caldwell, a Montanian mademoiselle mathematician, is able to stay a few steps ahead of a voluminous vulture from a "god-forsaken" antimatter universe. This unassuming duo saves the entire world - nearly 3 billion people (back in 1957) but will they be thanked for their efforts? Will they get so much as a mucho gracias?

Lately, because of the poor economy, I've made a conscious effort to try and not spend my money at Walmart but, rather, to spread (what little money I have) around. Not that I have anything against Walmart but lately I've tried to support small businesses like corner hardware stores or family-owned diners instead of always thinking strip malls.

It was along this line of thinking that I nobly purchased my first LCD television, not at Wal-mart, but at another store that shall remain nameless. My 5'6" frame swelled with American pride knowing my money wasn't going directly into the pockets of Sam Walton's widow and her four kids. I mean, I watch the news - I've seen how desperate businesses are for customers and I'm thinking they're going to be thrilled that I shopped here!

My wife and I browsed the showroom and compared television models, screen sizes, pixels, hertz's and contrast ratios, and then finally made our selection. After the salesman slid my credit card through the card reader so fast the friction heated it up like a brake pad on a bullet train, I wondered whether or not he would actually say "thank you for shopping here at blah, blah, blah."

After receipts were given, I got the impression there was no "thank you" on the horizon for this cowpoke. I just looked at the salesman...waiting. Not mean or irritated, just waiting. He said, "Have a good day!" I thought, "That's not what I'm waiting for..." He looked at me nervously, unsure of what my problem was. Then added, "You're...getting a great TV." then added again, "Have a good day." My wife instinctively answered, "Thank you!" NOOOOOOOOOOO! That's what HE was supposed to say!!!!

On the ride home, my wife was overjoyed with our new purchase. When I raged about the unmitigated gall of "that guy" not thanking us, she sighed and said, "You're going to ruin this moment, aren't you."

OK, so it's a little thing, but since then I've noticed something - nobody says thank you for your business anymore! And I'm not talking about the poor 17-year-old at the ice cream stand who has to scoop Rocky Road out of a frozen tub for 10 hours on a Saturday, I'm talking about adults!

And then the following happened just a few days later: I was standing in a Wegmans and I saw an old woman drop a ten dollar bill while paying for her groceries. At first I thought maybe she realized what had happened. But when she left the money on the floor, I heroically told her the tragic event that unfolded, confident this was surely her rent or heating bill money. I said, "Excuse me, ma'am, but you dropped ten dollars." She looked down, picked it up and you know what she said? Nothing. Nothing! She just snatched that ten dollar bill in her wrinkled old mitt like the Giant Claw swiping a Santa Fe steam engine!

So just as an experiment I decided to write down the next ten responses I got from cashiers to see if anyone would actually say "Thank you." This is what I got, in the order that I...y'know...got them:

1. Grocery store - "Have a great day."

2. Lowe's - "Thank You for Shopping Lowe's" (self check-out screen)

3. Quality Market - "There you go..." (Followed by a friendly stare. This is the worst because this response nearly obligates you to reply "Thank you." Resist the urge.)

4. Northwest Savings - "Next." (I hate bank tellers!!!!)

5. Country Fair - "Hatch a gibbon." (It was a barely audible mumble. It was either that or "Have a good one."

6. Target - (Nothing)

7. Sears - "Come again." (Oh yeah - you'd like that, wouldn't you? Scooping up my money while leaving me berift of thanks.)

8. Perkins restaurant - "Have a good day." (Why is everyone concerned with what kind of day I'm having?!)

9. Diner - Nothing (This is not happening!)

10. Wal-Mart - "Thank you!" (Damn it!!!)

Let's see if Mitch and Sally have better luck. As the movie begins, Mitch is behind the wheel of a jet, helping to calibrate a radar system. In the control tower, Sally requests that Mitch make a low-level pass. Mitch obliges by putting the plane into a dive and plummeting 10,000 feet in 9 seconds! (I counted) That is some nosedive!

Actors Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday earned their minimal paycheck shooting this scene!

Mitch buzzes the tower, angering Sally. "I didn't know pilots were allowed to do things like that," she says. The commander replies by explaining a distinction between two types of pilots, "Not Air Force pilots, you're right. But Mitch is an electronics engineer. He makes his own rules." So there you go kids - grow up to be an electronics engineer and the rules don't apply! Manslaughter charges? He can't be convicted he's an electronics engineer!

When Sally compares him to a child needing a spanking, Mitch replies with one of the most surprising lines from a 50s b-movie, "Mother, Dear! I'm ready when you are!"

Next, the narrator reads a riveting line of dialogue: "People doing a job. Efficiently. Serious. Having fun. Doing a job."

Um...OK.

Suddenly, Mitch spots a blurry UFO that looks like a feather duster being pulled through the air, but the control tower's radar doesn't show anything. No one believes Mitch. Better to be safe than sorry, interceptors are scrambled but nothing is found. When Mitch is back on the ground, he asks the commanding officer if his men spotted anything. Thinking Mitch made up the U.F.O. story as a prank, the major replies, "If you were in uniform, I'd place you under arrest. But since you're a civilian, I can't touch you!" Man, the perks of being an electronics engineer are still paying off!

As Mitch tries to defend himself, he blurts out, "Look, major...I spotted a U.F.O. Does that make me some sort of psychopath?" (Someone remind Mitch to never represent himself in court.) He goes further by saying, "Your buzz-boys fly around, couldn't find anything so now I suppose you want me to pay for the fuel they burnt or the time they wasted!" Mitch, quit while you're behind!

This video shows how many times the word "battleship" is used to describe the Giant Claw.

Suddenly, the major receives a call. A transport plane with 60 people on board has vanished! (Ha! In your face, major! Sucka!) The last thing the pilot mentioned was spotting a U.F.O. So, naturally the only sensible thing to do is get back in the air as soon as possible.

Soon Mitch, Sally and some movie extras are back in the air to test fate when the plane is suddenly attacked. This time their pilot sees a blurry, speeding UFO and says it looks like a "cloud" (I can see it's going to be real tough getting decent eyewitness testimony.)

The attack on the plane causes the pilot to lurch forward (out of camera range), smear fake blood down the side of his face and fall back into his seat! Then a completely different model plane bursts into flames and spins out of control! Fortunately, the model plane glides on a fishing line to a gentle landing! Mitch, Sally and the pilot escape the exploding aircraft but appear to be in greater danger by the director when flaming shards of metal are thrown at them while laying on the ground!

Momentarily stranded, they are rescued by a local French Canadian farmer named Pierre who takes Mitch and Sally back to his cabin. Sally convinces Mitch that if he drinks enough of Pierre's homemade alcohol he calls "apple jack," he'll have the courage to talk to "top brass" on the telephone. OK, so much for Sally being the sensible one. In fact, most of this scene is one booze-fest.

The Giant Claw

Pierre, hearing a disturbance, runs outside. Moments later we hear Pierre scream. Mitch and Sally rush outside and find him unconscious two feet from his front porch! He must have been knocked out by a Giant Toenail.

After returning Pierre to his cabin, he babbles that he saw a witch with the face of a wolf and the body of a woman (???). Wow! First a "cloud" and now this! Why can't anyone in this movie identify a bird?!

Sally says, "I seem to remember now! He's talking about a superstition the french Canadians have!" Mitch, not wanting to be outdone by a 1950s female, says (and I love this line), "Yes, it vaguely rings a small bell with me too!" Yeah, right ... you liar! I'm using that line rather than admitting I don't know something. For example, if someone says, "Did you know four signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured by the British?" I'll say: "Yes, that vaguely rings a small bell with me too!"

Pierre sits in a chair, scared out of his wits, mumbling about a witch. Just then a sheriff drops by and, right in front of Pierre, says, "According to the legend, if you see the old witch...it means you're gonna die." Pierre immediately bursts into tears! That's one heckuva bedside manner you've got there, sheriff! I hope the Canadian government doesn't have you talking people off of ledges.

Then the movie shows us a single bird footprint that's so large it takes up Pierre's entire farm. When he wakes up the next morning and sees that thing outside, he's gonna need something a lot stronger than applejack!

Soon, Mitch and the ever-present Sally are back on another plane. (Chasing a Giant Claw? Fly the "friendly skies!") After taking a drag off of a cigarette (in the 50s you could smoke on a plane!), Mitch makes a move on Sally by combining an odd series of sex metaphors with baseball. In fact, the pair become so focused on the baseball lingo it's almost as if they've forgotten they're talking about sex. But in the end, Mitch's lines work because, after all, he's an electronics engineer!

Meanwhile, the feather duster is attacking another plane. Fortunately, the committee members on board are ALREADY WEARING PARACHUTES when the plane starts to go down! Unfortunately, the parachutes slow their decent just enough for the supersonic Claw to pick them off one by one like grapes being fed to Julius Caesar.

You have to admire a couple of generals who don't mind getting their hands dirty.

Later, Mitch and Sally arrive in Washington to meet with "top brass." It's in this meeting Mitch utters my favorite line in the movie. When the general says that pilots have reported seeing Mitch's "UFO", he replies, "That makes me chief cook and bottle washer in a one man bird-watcher's society." (I thought I was pretty good at understanding 1950s references, but if anyone could e-mail me what that means, that would be great.)

Sally, seriously competing with Mitch for Time magazine's Person of the Year, suddenly remembers that military observation balloons carry cameras that are constantly rolling! Yeah, but what are the chances that... Sure enough, we're all looking at crystal-clear photos of the giant bird's, nerdy face.

Sally, Mitch and the general fly to Washington to meet General Consodine. I'd suggest they take a train, but we've already seen how much the Giant Claw loves trains.

General Consodine (who has the only Pentagon office with a view of the Capital building) looks at the filmstrip by holding it up (without a light source behind it) and says, “It's some sort of bird, alright…there's no question of that!” A few minutes later he has an even better line. After ordering planes to shoot it down, he says (referring to the bird's radar cloaking) "This should be the end of the big bird who was there but wasn't!" (Besides being a clumsy line, when is a bird a "who?")

Then, toy models of fighter planes engage the giant buzzard that slowly glides on wires at “supersonic speed!” I was expecting one of the pilots to descibe it as a cloud or a witch or a photocopier, but he calls it a "chicken hawk" which is as close as anyone's come so far to comparing it to an actual bird.

This scene contains two very entertaining moments: First, the Giant Claw bites into a model plane that's COMPLETELY different than the plane shown in real footage. Then, over the short wave radio, a pilot yells, “No! It's coming after me! No! No!!!” The general switches off the radio, creating the phrase, "tuning it out." Although, the next pilot sounds less intimidated wisecracking, "I'll never call my mother-in-law an old crow again!"

Mitch and the generals get into a tizzy, causing one general to say, "What do you suggest...spitballs?" and Mitch replies, "No, general...ATOMIC spitballs!"

The generals enlist the aid of scientist, Dr. Karol Noymann (Sidenote: You may remember that name from the movie "Invisible Invaders" in which John Carradine played a different Karol Noymann. It's believed the name was invented by The Giant Claw screenwriter Samuel Newman who would later write "Invisible Invaders" in 1959.)

Noymann explains the bird itself is not antimatter, but rather projects an antimatter force field that explodes everything it touches including radar signals.

But the oddest thing about the bird are its feathers. Whenever Noymann tried to study the feathers using electronic analyzers, his equipment was destroyed (Also, the bird also has the ability to flare its nostrils even though it has a beak.)

When asked where it comes from, Noymann replies, "It comes from outer space...from some god-forsaken, anti-matter galaxy." (That was pretty scientific except for the "god-forsaken" part. That seemed a little judgmental.)

In the days that follow, the blurry feather duster is seen in all parts of the world. In some cases, it causes hundreds of people to run, screaming in terror. Or, in another scene, it causes a teenage girl to feel awkward and she nervously rubs her neck. (Imagine what it must take to actually terrify her!)

For a moment, Sally deludes herself into believing she's one of the boys instead of a woman in the 1950s.

Back at the hotel, Sally deduces the bird has come to Earth to build a nest (man, she is on a ROLL!) She informs Mitch, who then calls the general on the phone thereby taking all the credit. While on the phone he asks Sally to pick up the papers on the couch.

The radio announces the United States is now under martial law. Soldiers will be used to patrol the streets and distribute food and supplies??!! Hey army, I've got an idea — how about using those soldiers to kill the giant monster bird!!

This next scene is GREAT — just as Mitch and Sally prepare to leave the hotel, THE GIANT CLAW FLIES BY THEIR WINDOW! WHAT ARE THE ODDS???

Then Sally makes ANOTHER accurate prediction: The Giant Claw is headed to Pierre's farm to nest! Mitch and Sally hop on a plane, then a helicopter (You guys really enjoy rolling the dice, don't you?) to look for giant bird eggs.

Mitch, Sally and Pierre locate the Giant Claw's eggs. Suddenly, Pierre decides he wants out of the whole operation. He must have gotten the crazy idea that bullets might not do anything against a bird that can pick up a train like it was a nightcrawler.

Sally takes a rifle and when Mitch looks surprised, she responds, “I'm from Montana.” Sure enough, she's a crack shot. Their rifle bullets shatter eggs the size of the Superdome. And as protective as mother birds are, this one didn't think to erect an antimatter shield around her precious young. Shortly after, a terrified Pierre gets the bright idea to flee from the giant bird by running down a road that's as wide open as a runway. The Giant Claw snatches up Pierre like a delicious piece of Canadian bacon! And this bacon has been soaking in "apple jack!" Mmm...Even better!

Anyone who finds teenagers annoying might enjoy this next scene: Mitch and Sally take the late Pierre's truck (no time for grieving) and are harassed by a pack of wild 1950s teenagers in a jalopy! “Hey, Daddy-O…Get that tin can off the rode!”, yells one of the hooligans. Then, to every senior citizen's delight, the punks are picked up by the Giant Claw, roadster and all! But wait! Upon further review, after falling hundreds of feet from the sky, their car EXPLODING on the way down, it seems the kids are merely stunned! Boy, kids are durable...it's their young bones.

It's hard to believe the final slide in this slideshow was meant to be terrifying. Hey Giant Claw, smile at the weather balloon!

After taking the kids to a nearby hospital (probably just outpatient stuff), Mitch and Sally regroup with the general and the scientist. Then we learn that Mitch, already electronics engineer and jet pilot, is also the most brilliant atomic research scientist on the planet! It seems that, until now, a mesic atom has only been brought to life in a lab for a millionth of a second. Yet Mitch, under pressure no less, has created a gun that can shoot a whole stream of them!

The new Mesic Atom Gun by Mitch (patent pending) is installed into the tail section of a bomber plane while Sally (and I'm not kidding) gets the guys sandwiches and coffee.

As Mitch frantically tightens nuts and bolts (how ELSE are you going to hold a mesic atom gun together?), the Giant Claw is tearing apart the United Nations building. Then the movie steals a scene from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers where the Washington Monument falls! HEY, DO THEY HAVE PERMISSION TO USE THAT?!

The military finally uses its new weapon on the bird. Mitch didn't mention the effect would look like an exploding flash pod. In fact, there's so much smoke, it's as if the bird's antimatter shield has been thwarted by a giant cockroach defogger! With (as they say on Star Trek) "shields down," the bird is blasted by heavy artillery and plummets into the water.

That dead bird is going to stink up the city for a very long time.

But that's neither here nor there - here comes the important part: Mitch and Sally have nearly single-handedly saved the world. Surely, thanks will be heaped upon them! Heaped, I tell you!

General Consodine walks over to them and says...

"We got it!"

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