The nostalgia for the 1950s has been with us for over forty years now. Blame George Lucas and American Graffiti (actually set during the Kennedy administration, but responsible for engendering nostalgia for the previous decade) for making us so fondly recall the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the popularity of sock hops, drive-in movies, and the introduction of a fad for 3-D movies that is currently enjoying its third vogue, appropriately enough.
The popular mindset tends to ignore the influential role played by be-bop jazz, the beat poets, film noir’s move to television, and the introduction of Cinemascope in the same decade. Beneath the artificially clean post-war American dream, where everyone on the big screen and small screen appeared to be white, upper middle class, and enjoying cocktails and cigarettes with no ill effects, while watching Rock Hudson pursuing a virginal Doris Day, there were the McCarthy witch hunts, the Red Scare, atomic fears, juvenile delinquency, and shell-shocked WWII veterans unable to readjust to civilian life.
It was in this world that the third wave of the horror film took hold. The steadily growing move from splitting the atom to racing to the moon saw science fiction take a steady hold on the genre that took it far from the space fantasy of decades past into an allegorical means of confronting the dark fears behind the baby boomers’ dream world. One of the most potent and influential b-movies to fill drive-ins during the late 1950s was The Blob.
For nearly fifty years, Wes Shank is the memorabilia collector who has been the caretaker of the original Blob silicone from that cult classic film. Wes authored the definitive account of the making of the film in his 2009 book, From Silicone to the Silver Screen: Memoirs of The Blob (1958). I met Wes and his wife Judi at Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Con a few weeks ago and left with a copy of Wes’s book.
Along with relating his own remarkable story of how a movie-loving teenage kid came to own the Blob itself, Wes has compiled the authoritative account of the making of this seminal film. Lavishly illustrated with exclusive behind-the-scenes photos, as well as movie posters and publicity photos (many in full-color), Shank’s book is filled with interviews with the surviving principals and anecdotes about those who are no longer able to share their memories, including the film’s star, a young Steve McQueen, whose career would reach meteoric heights following the film’s release.
The tale of how Christian filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. became involved in developing the project as a means of funding further evangelical films certainly makes for strange bedfellows with the usual Hollywood shenanigans. Yeaworth infused the film with a desire to depict teenagers in a positive light and as misunderstood and mistrusted by suspicious and small-minded adults and parents. What Yeaworth saw as a positive message for a secular project became a touchpoint with the youthful audiences who saw the film first-run or discovered it in coming years on television.
Along with the story behind the script’s development and the actual production of the film, Shank details Union Carbide’s development of the actual Blob prop from industrial silicone. That’s right. Countless Hollywood starlets have the same stuff that made the Blob bouncing around inside of them. That may be the most subversively appropriate fact for this classic fifties b-movie for the decade that also marked the beginning of Hollywood’s glamorization of artificial mammary glands.
This absolutely fascinating book is a must-have for nostalgic fans or genre film buffs and would make a great Halloween gift. Sadly, it’s no longer available from Amazon, but it can be purchased direct from the author’s website, http://www.theblobbook.com/ Check it out and pick up a copy. You won’t be sorry. It’s the perfect companion to the Criterion edition of the film.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press) and The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012; Black Coat Press). The Triumph of Fu Manchu is scheduled for publication in May 2014.