Thursday, May 6, 2010

BEGINNING OF THE END

"If there's one thing we've learned from THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN and GRASSHOPPERUS, it's that radiation makes things grow real big, real fast." - Homer Simpson

The late Peter Graves was probably best known for his iconic role on the long running spy show MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. But, back in the 50s as a prolific young actor, he starred in several fondly-remembered sci-fi B-movie "classics," including KILLERS FROM SPACE, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and director Bert I. Gordon's BEGINNING OF THE END (1957).

The plot: atomically-mutated giant locusts swarm Illinois, and attack Chicago. These ravenous insects are opposed by a manly entomologist (Graves), plucky girl reporter (the lovely Peggy Castle) and the United States military (led, as usual, by Morris Ankrum, who must have owned his own general's uniform). That's it, but really, what more could you want?

The low-budget production is not as well regarded as other "big bug" films of the era, like THEM or TARANTULA, but I thought it was great entertainment. The leads are earnest and appealing, the effects are, if not convincing, certainly amusing, and if the script by Fred Frieberger and Lester Gorn is predictable and formulaic, it's also solidly constructed.

Director Gordon seemed to take his initials - B.I.G. - very seriously, as many of his movies feature "embiggened" menaces of various species, optically enlarged and pitted against humanity. His directorial credits are a paean to gigantism - KING DINOSAUR, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, THE CYCLOPS, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, THE EMPIRE OF THE ANTS - and although he worked in other genres as well, it's his giant monster movies that he is most associated with.

Gordon also usually executed his own special effects, with traditional techniques that he employed throughout the span of his career, from the 50s to the 70s. These primarily consisted of traveling mattes and rear projection, although he was also fond of taking his little critters and shooting them as they climbed over photo blow-ups of buildings... and often right off into the "sky." There are several shots like that in BEGINNING, and they are unintentionally hilarious.

BEGINNING OF THE END was previously released on DVD in 2003 by Image Entertainment, and that disc is long out of print. This new edition from Hen's Tooth Video appears to use the same remastered 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer as that previous disc. It's a beautiful transfer, sharp and clear with good detail and contrast, and is marred only by occasional, fleeting blemishes such as random specks and a scratch or two. The special features include an unusual audio commentary by the director's daughter, Susan Gordon, and ex-wife, Flora Gordon, who are joined by actor/comedian Bruce Kimmel, for some reason (he doesn't really seem to know much about the movie). This commentary track also appeared on the Image disc. The original Theatrical Trailer is also included.

For fans of Fifties' sci-fi and "big bug" flicks, BEGINNING OF THE END is a fun, lower-tier entry in the genre. The DVD looks great, and the movie is actually a bit better than its reputation would suggest. Recommended.

BUY: Beginning of the End (1957)