Almost all of Creature from the Black Lagoon is a compelling mix of science fiction, workplace drama and horror. The Creature makes a great “villain” because there’s nothing human about him (except maybe his fixation on leading lady Julie Adams) so it’s possible to both fear him and to understand leading man Richard Carlson’s scientific point of view.
The only place it falls apart is the finish, where the screenwriters and director Arnold feel the need for some excitement; they tack on a totally unnecessary action sequence.
The workplace drama elements are Carlson, Adams and Richard Denning (as their boss). Denning’s performance of a money hungry scientist who slowly loses it is outstanding. He sort of outdoes everyone else in the picture, except maybe Nestor Paiva. Paiva’s the captain of the ship taking these bickering ichthyologists on their exploration. The script constantly unveils something new (and unlikely) about his character, but Paiva essays it all beautifully.
As a director, Arnold embraces the exploration wonderment, juxtaposing it against the horror aspects in the picture. When the wonderment declines and the more thriller tone comes up, he does well with it too.
The film has outstanding photography from William E. Snyder and excellent music from its (uncredited) composers. The underwater photography gives it spectacle value, but Arnold and his crew make the land sections almost as good. The sets are great and the Creature’s makeup is fantastic.
Creature, thanks to Arnold, the cast and its smart script, is a rather fine film.
Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, based on a story by Maurice Zimm; director of photography, William E. Snyder; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Richard Carlson (David Reed), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), Richard Denning (Mark Williams), Antonio Moreno (Carl Maia), Whit Bissell (Edwin Thompson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).