Movie Review: Defending 'The Blob'

Jun 1, 2020


My boss recently informed me that The Blob, that 1958 science fiction classic, is, I believe she said, a “bad” movie. Aside from its outsized impact on popular culture, The Blob has the distinction of being the very first movie I ever saw, so you can imagine this is a bit of a touchy subject for me. But beyond that, The Blob is not, in fact, a “bad” movie, but is what a person might call “good.”

 

Here’s the thing: some movies play well all the time, in all eras, no matter what—you can know nothing about Buster Keaton, turn on one of his films, and have a ball. Other movies, after some decades, need context. This is a flawed example, but think of the special effects in the original King Kong. If you have no concept of what was and wasn’t achievable in 1933, they probably don’t look so great to you.

 

At this point, The Blob needs context. It came about at a time when both science fiction movies and movies about teenagers were really hot, and the producer, Jack Harris, decided to combine the two. But teenage movies at the time were almost exclusively about delinquents. The teens in The Blob are the heroes, when almost none of the adults will listen to them. This was entirely intentional—teens were finally being taken seriously in popular culture, why not show there are plenty of good kids out there? The result was a movie that sat squarely in the pocket of what was hugely popular, but also offered something entirely new, and The Blob was a big hit. Much of the movie was also shot on location in southeast Pennsylvania rather than on a Hollywood studio lot, pretty unusual for the time, and so for today’s audience, it serves as a kind of time capsule of what America—at least white, small-town America—wanted to believe it was in the late ‘50s. Watching it now, knowing none of this, it’s fun, but it does drag. But its reputation as an important part of movie history is well deserved.

 

And if all that weren’t enough-- The Blob also launched the career of one Mr. Steve McQueen, perhaps the coolest guy ever to be on screen, and also provided Burt Bacharach with one of his first hits, as the writer of the movie’s cheeky opening theme.

 

By the way, the second movie I ever saw? Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, on a double bill with The Blob. We can have a reasonable argument about the quality of that movie, but I gotta admit it still kinda makes me laugh.

 

The Blob is currently available on the Criterion Channel, along with some excellent commentaries from the producer Harris, the director, actors, and a film historian, and you can easily rent it through streaming services, as you can with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

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