DVD Review: The Black Scorpion (1957).

Black Scorpion 6 sheet cropped

Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Jack Dietz and Frank Melford
Screenplay by Robert Blees and David Duncan
Story by Paul Yawitz
Director Of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast: Richard Denning (Hank Scott), Mara Corday (Teresa), Carlos Rivas (Arturo Ramos), Mario Navarro (Juanito), Carlos Muzquiz (Dr. Velazco), Pascual Garcia Pena (Jose de la Cruz)

When you look at the big-bug movies of the 50s, the good-to-bad ratio is surprisingly good. Them! (1954), about giant ants, is terrific. Tarantula (1955) is excellent, too, thanks in large part to Jack Arnold’s snappy direction. The Deadly Mantis (1957) sticks the mantis in the Manhattan Tunnel for a cool last reel. Then there’s The Black Scorpion (1957), with Warner Bros. hoping to scare up another batch of Them!-like profits, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Black Scorpion Mex LC

WRAL here in Raleigh used to have a Saturday morning movie thing called Sunrise Theater. My best friend James and I would stay at one of our houses Friday night, sleep on the living room floor, set an alarm, and get up to watch whatever monster flick was on that week. We usually had SpaghettiOs for breakfast. I think that’s how I first saw The Black Scorpion.

A once-dormant volcano erupts, wreaking all sorts of havoc in Mexico. Geologists Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) come to investigate, meeting the lovely Teresa (Mara Corday) — and discovering a nest of giant scorpions living in the caverns beneath the volcano.

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These aren’t just any giant scorpions. They’re the work of the great Willis O’Brian and his assistant Pete Peterson. A master of stop-motion animation and one of the true pioneers of movie effects, O’Brien gave us The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and others. His career was winding down by the time he took on The Black Scorpion, and even though working with a small budget (setting up shop in tiny studio space and his own garage, the story goes), he made sure the movie delivered the goods. (As a kid, I measured the quality of movies like this according to how much screen time the monsters had.) In the shots where you see two or three scorpions, imagine animating all those legs! A sequence with a train attacked by one of the scorpions is just incredible.

Lionel Lindon’s cinematography is top-notch, using deep shadows and limited lighting to create a creepy mood, especially in the caverns. (Be sure to see his stunning work on 1957’s The Lonely Man.) He won an Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days (1956).

Black Scorpion LC 2

Richard Denning and Mara Corday were old hands at this kinda stuff. He’d already dealt with The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and she’d come up against Tarantula. They do exactly what a movie like this asks of them: look scared, be brave and deliver some whacky pseudo-science to fool audiences into almost believing it for 80 minutes or so.

I’ve had the old DVD since it came out, and I was happy with it. The transfer was nice, but full-frame. The extras were terrific, gathering up some of O’Brien’s tests, clips, trailers and other goodies. Warner Archive was wise to keep those for their new release, but for me, the true extra is the restoration of its 1.85 framing. Every setup looks so much better, from the dialogue scenes to the monster footage. Widescreen films like this, regardless of their age, can look pretty clunky when seen full-frame, and I thank Warner Archive for this upgrade on The Black Scorpion. It’s sharp as a tack and the audio’s clean, down to the sound effects borrowed from Them!. If you don’t have The Black Scorpion, and you’re into this sort of thing, I recommend it highly. If you have the old DVD, well, this new one’s worth the re-purchase.

And if I remember right, it goes well with SpaghettiOs.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1954, 1955, 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Jack Arnold, John Agar, Mara Corday, Warner Archive

2 responses to “DVD Review: The Black Scorpion (1957).

  1. john k

    Wow! that’s so cool that Warners have included the extras on this
    Archive version.
    I would have gone for the upgrade anyway just to get it in widescreen.
    I really wish Warner Archive would re-issue the very fine Randolph
    Scott Western TALL MAN RIDING in 1.85 as opposed to 4 x 3 like
    the version they released previously.

    Like

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