“We are changing a sea creature into a land creature.” – Dr William Barton
After the lacklustre sequel, it was decided to give the Creature from the Black Lagoon one more outing and a more fitting, if tragic, send off. Seemingly, the Gill-Man didn’t die as he sank slowly to the depths in Revenge of the Creature, he’s made his way from the Floridian marine park to the Everglades and that’s where he’s living now, a year later.
But ever there, he can’t catch a break – there’s a party of scientists out on an expedition to find him. This time, no tramp steamer, but a large private cruiser with onboard labs – all financed by the wealthy and unpleasant, paranoid, abusive control freak Dr William Barton (Jeff Morrow) who takes his younger trophy wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden) along for the trip. Honestly – the marriage is such a car wreck; I can only imagine she’s staying with him because of Stockholm Syndrome.
The expedition guide Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer) has his eye on her but she keeps brushing off his attentions and remarks. (But her husband has noticed…oh, yes)
Hero scientist role goes to Rex Reason as Dr Thomas Morgan – which rounds up the Gill-Man’s collection of having been bothered by the cream of Universal Pictures’ hero scientist/leading men of the fifties, with Richard Carlson and John Agar having appeared in the earlier films. (Also, this reunited Reason with Jeff Morrow after the stunning This Island Earth the previous year.)
For a massive place like the Everglades, they find the Creature quite quickly and, as usual try to drug him in the water after an aborted diving reconnaissance where the headstrong Marcia got into trouble suffering from pressure having dived too deep, too quickly. (But the Gill-Man (Ricou Browning in the underwater scenes) was watching from a distance).
The Gill-Man attacks the party in their rowing boat but in an accident, is doused in petrol and set alight.
Third degree burns lose him the ability to breathe through his gills but he has a secondary breathing system and is growing slightly more human-like, shedding his burnt fish-like skin. He even wears a loose canvas shirt and trousers when he’s on land. So, to save his life, he has to forego his aquatic life and become a land creature, yearning for the water. As Barton remarks, they’re making a land creature out of a sea creature. (No, Barton. You’re not. He comes from fresh water – why is this so difficult for script writers to remember?)
After this, the Creature becomes nothing more than a stooge, kind of like Glenn Strange was in the last Frankenstein/Dracula films. The narrative becomes more about the Bartons’ fractured marriage, his jealousy, her flirting with Jed to the point Barton kills him in a rage and places the body in the Creature’s pen in attempt to pin the blame for the murder on the poor Creature.
But the Creature realises what’s happening and breaks out (the Creature on land is played by stuntman Don Megowan who was the tallest of the Gill-Men at 6’9’’). Cornering Barton, the Creature throws him from a balcony, to his death and wanders off, to the nearby ocean. Without his gills, he’ll drown and maybe that’s what he wants – he now belongs neither on land or in the water.
It was a fitting and affecting final curtain to what is considered to be the last of Universal’s great monster classics.
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