The Monolith Monsters (1957)

“Monolith Monsters” was unique in that it took a different approach to 1950’s sci-fi. There were no alien monsters. Atomic radiation didn’t spawn them. You couldn’t just blast them with guns. There weren’t any miracle chemicals or devices needed, just good old-fashioned common sense.

In a nutshell, a meteor crashes into the desert outside a small Arizona town, leaving a huge crater as well as thousands of small, but smooth shiny black rocks. When these rocks come in contact with water, they absorb the silica content and begin to grow until the silica source is gone. When they grow tall enough, gravity makes them unstable and they fall, only to have the shattered pieces grow yet again. In this way, they spread forward in a seemingly unstoppable wave of destruction. By the way, they absorb any kind of silica, including the small quantities the human body uses to make skin flexible so fingers and joints can bend and so organs like the heart and lungs expand and contract. Thus, when humans handle a wet rock, they literally are turned to stone.

Despite the unique plot, you come away from the movie feeling somewhat disappointed. Director John Sherwood had only two directing credits to his resume. Most of his career was spent as an assistant director up until his death in 1959, two years after “Monolith Monsters” came out.

The cast is credible though not used to anything close to their abilities. Grant Williams, so brilliant in “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” plays hero Dave Miller somewhat distractedly. His love interest, Cathy Barrett, is played by Lola Albright (“Peyton Place”). She’s so syrupy and sweet it’s absolutely nauseating. Her portrayal was typical of female characters in ’50s sci-fi and horror, but she was way over the top in this role.

Les Tremayne, a well-known veteran of radio, theater and screen in such films as “War of the Worlds” is totally wasted. If he had simply left the set one day into filming and had never returned, his role could have simply been written out with no production delays or problems whatsoever. He mostly stands around in the Arizona heat in a white suit, listening to the other characters emote. Other veterans like Richard Cutting (“Attack of the Crab Monsters”), Phil Harvey (“The Deadly Mantis”) and Steve Darrell (“Tarantula”) are likewise wasted.

Much of the actors’ dialog is stilted and unnecessary, like the actors were getting paid by the word. Also, their interaction is way too pat. Everyone comes off like they live in Pleasantville instead of Our Town.

The holes in the plot are glaring. For instance, when Williams and a professor, played by Trevor Bardette, go out to find the meteor crater, they locate it and see the hillside and plains surrounding it covered in the small monolith fragments. Later, during a driving rain storm, they pair drive out to the crater and watch giant monoliths growing out of the mouth of the crater. Somehow, the director Sherwood forgot about the fragments and the area around the crater should have been thick with thousands of growing monoliths.

Also, you get the feeling the movie ended too soon, although that’s typical of sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. Most never made it to 90 minutes in length. So, here, you get to see the monoliths destroy a farm and you see a few townsfolk affected by the monoliths, but that’s it. To me, it seemed to lessen the potential thrill factor. Also, a lack of common sense does in the film. I won’t give away the ending, but a mean of stopping the rocks is found, but the actors intimate that if it fails in one instance that the rocks will never be stopped and will destroy the earth. Common sense says that since the monoliths are in the middle of the desert and the solution is so common that there is plenty of time to stop the monolith monsters.

Still, the movie is interesting enough for a late Saturday night. The movie was adapted from a story called “Monolith” that was co-written by Robert Fresco and Jack Arnold. Interestingly enough, Arnold directed Williams in “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Arnold had a lengthy director’s resume, including directing and producing some 30 TV series (!), including “Wonder Woman” and “The Bionic Woman.” One wonders if Arnold should have directed “Monolith Monsters.”

You can tell the film was from Universal Studios, even if you miss the opening credits. The town of San Angelo doubled as Desert Rock in “Tarantula” and was also used in “It Came From Outer Space,” another Jack Arnold classic. The music, done by an uncredited Henry Mancini, can be heard in many other Universal monster movies. Steve Darrell, Phil Harvey and Richard Cutting were stock actors for Universal.

On a side note, look real close at the scene where extras are working feverishly at the dam. The man waiting for word from Williams so he can trigger the main weapon against the monoliths is an uncredited Troy Donahue. Universal did the same thing in 1955 with an uncredited Clint Eastwood in “Tarantula.” It took years for people to pick up on the cameos.