The Monolith Monsters
|The Monolith Monsters|
Theatrical poster by Reynold Brown
|Directed by||John Sherwood|
|Produced by||Howard Christie|
Robert M. Fresco
Robert M. Fresco
|Cinematography||Ellis W. Carter|
|Edited by||Patrick McCormack|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||December 1957|
|Running time||77 min.|
The Monolith Monsters is a 1957 black-and-white Universal Pictures science fiction film produced by Howard Christie and directed by John Sherwood. It stars Grant Williams and Lola Albright and is based on a story by Jack Arnold and Robert M. Fresco, with a screenplay by Fresco and Norman Jolley.
The film tells the story of a huge meteorite that crashes in the desert and explodes into hundreds of black fragments with strange properties; when those fragments are exposed to water, they begin to infect various inhabitants of a small Southern California desert town. The story that unfolds becomes one of survival against an encroaching alien natural disaster, that if not stopped, could grow into a national ecological nightmare and soon become a dire threat to all of humanity.
In the desert outside of San Angelo, California, a huge meteorite crashes and explodes, scattering hundreds of black fragments over a wide area. The next day, Federal geologist Ben Gilbert (Phil Harvey) brings one of the fragments to his office, where he and local newspaper publisher Martin Cochrane (Les Tremayne) examine it. That night, a strong wind blows over a full water container onto the black rock, starting a chemical reaction.
When Dave Miller (Grant Williams), the head of San Angelo's district geological office, returns from a business trip, he finds Ben's corpse in a rock-hard, petrified state, and the office's lab damaged by large rock fragments. Dave's girlfriend, teacher Cathy Barrett (Lola Albright), takes her students on a desert field trip; young Ginny Simpson (Linda Scheley) pockets a piece of the black meteorite rock, later washing it in a large tub outside her family's farmhouse. In town, Dr. E. J. Reynolds (Richard H. Cutting) performs Ben's autopsy and cannot explain the body's condition; he informs Dave and Police Chief Dan Corey (William Flaherty) the body is being sent to a specialist. Martin returns to the wrecked office with Dave; he recognizes the large fragments as the same type of black rock Ben had been examining.
Cathy joins them, also recognizing the fragments. She goes with the two men to the Simpson farm; they find the farmhouse in ruins under a large pile of black rocks and Ginny's parents dead. The girl is still alive but in a catatonic state. At Dr. Reynolds' request, they rush her to Dr. Steve Hendricks (Harry Jackson) at the California Medical Research Institute in Los Angeles. He later reports that Ginny is slowly turning to stone; her only hope lies with identifying the black rock within eight hours. Dave brings a fragment to his old college professor, Arthur Flanders (Trevor Bardette), who determines it came from a meteorite. Back at the Simpson farm, both men notice a discoloration in the ground: The black rock is draining something from everything it touches, including people. Later, tests show that silicon is that substance; in humans it is normally just a trace element. Dr. Reynolds explains that research indicates that one possible function of silicon is to maintain human tissue flexibility. They realize the meteorite's silicon absorption was the cause of Ben's death, Ginny's condition, and the death of her parents; Steve then prepares a silicon solution injection for the girl.
Returning to the desert, Dave and Arthur trace the fragments to the crashed meteor. Arthur deduces that the meteorite's atomic structure has been radically altered by the intense heat of atmospheric friction. Back in the lab, a rainstorm blows up while Dave and Arthur continue their investigation. A piece of black rock falls into the sink and begins to react when hot coffee is poured on it; the men then realize that water is the culprit. With it raining outside, they hurriedly return to the desert and see the black fragments now growing into stories-tall monoliths that rise up and then crash back to Earth, breaking into hundreds more fragments, each fragment then repeating that cycle. Dave quickly realizes that the monoliths' advancing path will take them directly through San Angelo, and from there the monoliths could spread and possibly threaten all life on Earth.
They report the threat to Dan, who then makes plans to evacuate San Angelo. At the hospital, Ginny finally revives; Dave deduces that something in the silicon solution will check the fragments' growth. More locals are soon rushed to Dr. Reynolds' office in stages of petrification. With little time left, and the telephone and electricity cut off, the monoliths continue to multiply and advance, soaking up water from the rain-soaked soil. Dave and Arthur struggle to find the correct formula; they finally realize the monoliths can be stopped with a simple saline solution, a part of Steve's silicon formula.
Dave plans to dynamite the local dam and flood the nearby salt flats, creating a large supply of salt water. Knowing they must halt the monoliths at the canyon's edge, Dave disregards the governor's concerns, and places dynamite charges; with only minutes left, the dynamite is detonated. The group watches as a great torrent of water flows over the salt deposits at the canyon's edge, reaching the monoliths; their growth is finally halted when the last huge formation of monoliths crashes down into the salty water. Dan then reveals to the group that the governor actually said to use dynamite only if he was absolutely certain of success. He then continues, first repeating Martin's observation that the region's salt flat was "Mother Nature's worst mistake," then pointing out, ironically, this event has just proved otherwise.
- Grant Williams as Dave Miller
- Lola Albright as Cathy Barrett
- Les Tremayne as Martin Cochrane
- Trevor Bardette as Professor Arthur Flanders
- Phil Harvey as Ben Gilbert
- William Flaherty as Police Chief Dan Corey
- Harry Jackson as Dr. Steve Hendricks
- Richard H. Cutting as Dr. E. J. Reynolds
- Linda Scheley as Ginny Simpson
- Dean Cromer as Highway Patrolman
- Steve Darrell as Joe Higgans
The special effects were created by Clifford Stine, whose career began in 1933 with King Kong. Alternate takes from Universal's It Came from Outer Space (1953), which Stine also created, were used for the meteor crash in the film's opening sequence.
The film's (uncredited) opening narration is by Paul Frees.
Many of the exteriors were filmed in the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California, whose rugged landscape has been used in previous films such as Gunga Din, High Sierra, Maverick, How the West Was Won, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Gladiator. Most of the exteriors of downtown San Angelo were shot on Universal's back lot, particularly Courthouse Square.
The film's "California Medical Research Institute" is the same fictional facility that also features prominently in Universal's The Incredible Shrinking Man, released eight months earlier, which also starred Grant Williams.
- Rux, Bruce. Hollywood Vs. the Aliens. 1997. Frog, Ltd. (North Atlantic Books). ISBN 1-883319-61-7.
- Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. 1976. Octopus Books Limited. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X.
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties, Volume One (1950-1957). 1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-89950-032-3
- The Monolith Monsters at the Internet Movie Database
- The Monolith Monsters at AllMovie
- Movie review at Rotten Tomatoes
- Review of The Monolith Monsters