The Monster That Challenged the World

The Monster That Challenged the World is a 1957 film that MGM must have offered a big wad of cash to Tim Holt to come out of retirement for. They got their money’s worth, he does that Tim Holt thing like it’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre but instead of battling Bogie’s Fred C. Dobbs it’s some dude in a man eating snail get-up. “He was a quiet, nice man”, one of the cast said of Tim Holt, “the most unactor actor I ever met.”

The title of the flick might be a tad overwrought, the world so challenged is actually the Salton Sea (the plot never takes it further than it’s shores), and the monster is a giant killer mollusk. Of course, the huge octopus that Ray Harryhausen had destroy the Golden Gate bridge in It Came From Beneath the Sea was also a giant killer mollusk, but the monster in the Salton Sea in our flick here was some sort of huge mondo gnarly shellfish, apparently, and shellfish are only so scary. So you suspend your disbelief just a little more than usual. I liked the flick even better the second time than the the first time I saw it, several years ago. Not as good as, say, the Monolith Monsters (again with the necessary extra suspension of disbelief for that one) but it’s still one of the cooler weird shit in the desert 1950s movies.

David Duncan wrote the thing, he’d just written the surprisingly creepy Black Scorpion (with the giant scorpions created by Willis O’Brien, who had probably kicked off the whole giant monster thing with King Kong), after this he did a much better money gig penning The Time Machine and then did the story or treatment or whatever for Fantastic Voyage, where those weird squirmy things wrap themselves around Raquel Welch. Perhaps you remember.

Did I mention Hans Conried? He’s the scientist, in a rare non-comic part, and I kept expecting him to be funny. You totally age yourself if the first thing you thought of was Fractured Flickers. You’ll age yourself a little less if you thought of Snidely Whiplash. Joel McCrae’s kid Jody, who you didn’t recognize, plays a sailor and gets et by the critter. He gets to swim around and look quite fit, though, which probably landed him a role in those idiotic beach movies. And Max Showalter you’ll recognize from everything.

Some people never do outgrow old monster movies.

Nothing in this lobby poster has anything to do with the actual story of The Monster That Challenged the World, it never destroys a city. It doesn’t even flatten Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach

After a series of right angles on the country lanes just south of the Salton Sea in search of mudpots, we turned left on the 111 north and dropped by Bombay Beach for the first time in years. Two things: they moved the dart board at the Ski Inn so you are less likely to be killed by a drunk old lady at 11 in the morning when within ten feet of bullseye, and also, there are serious signs of post-apocalyptic gentrification. The burned out mobile home is gone, for one thing, and ancient cars were not lying about in pieces like dinosaur bones after a particularly nasty extinction event. Nor were there fetid pools of water or the bouquet of a million dead tilapia. Art work has appeared, psilocybin inspired cartoons and images splashed on unroofed walls, some quite striking, always a bad sign. Even worse, there was now literary graffiti–“Charles Bukowski Lives”–scrawled across one abandoned home. Lowbrow literary graffiti, but still. And while Michael McClure Lives would have been more appropriate since, well, he does, none of this mattered at the Ski Inn, a perfect desert dive, where we quaffed ice cold beers and listened to the surly old people talking and thinking how soon that will be us, if not already.

Ski Inn