In Greek mythology the cyclops were known for creating Zeus’s thunderbolt, giving Odysseus a hard time and even helping overthrow the Titans, but the film we will be looking at today has absolutely nothing to those events or Greek mythology in general, instead, writer/producer/director Bert I. Gordon delivered a low-budget atomic age monster movie, making it one of the many atomic monster movies that flooded cinemas during the 1950s.
Bert I. Gordon’s science fiction adventure film The Cyclops may include creatures that have grown to immense size due to radiation but the structure of the film’s plot is very in keeping with dinosaur movies dating back to the silent era with a plot that follows this classic formula for much of its short running time, that is until they run into a giant cyclops. The story opens with Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott) organizing a search party to find her missing fiancé, Bruce Barton (Duncan Parkin), who went missing three years ago while flying over the jungles of Mexico, despite the Mexican government refusing her access she takes to the air with pilot Lee Brand (Tom Drake), a man with somewhat fluid morals, then there is bacteriologist Russ Bradford (James Craig) who wants to find Bruce dead so that he can marry Susan and finally we have mining expert Martin “Marty” Melville (Lon Chaney Jr.) who has financed the expedition for his own agenda of discovering uranium deposits. Things get complicated when Marty goes crazy and tries to take control of the plane, which forces Brand into making an emergency landing, to which Marty is then proven right about the area’s richness in radioactive minerals. Too bad this particular brand of radiation has caused the local wildlife to grow to immense size.
What follows is a collection of classic adventure tropes with the various characters squabbling over what to do next, with Marty constantly voting for them to leave as soon as possible, and while Marty’s motives may seem mercenary – he never cared about finding the missing pilot in the first place just the uranium deposits – he’s also not wrong, as hanging around in such a dangerous environment is just plain stupid. The science of the film is also fairly ridiculous, with Russ claiming that cells of the creatures in the valley seem to multiply like bacteria, stating that “It means there is no limit to the potential size of the animal. It grows continuously. The secret of continuous limitless multiplication of living cells in ordinary animals.” This is a pretty ridiculous conclusion because at some point the creature would reach such a size that it would collapse under its own weight. But our group of “heroes” are not the brightest bulbs in the box as it takes them forever to conclude that the 25-foot-cyclopean man they encounter is the missing Bruce Barton, something even six-year-old audience members would have probably deduced immediately.
• If this movie took place in a rocketship or on a distant planet I’d chalk Marty’s freak-out in the plane to “Space Madness” but as is, it makes little to no sense and is basically a lazy plot contrivance.
• Marty handles raw uranium with his bare hands, not even bothering to wash them later, and this makes me question his claims of being a mining expert.
• Bruce claims his .30-06 Springfield rifle “Can kill anything we’ll come across” but he was already told by Russ and Susan about a twelve-foot hawk, which makes any such assurance dubious at best.
• In many of those old dinosaur movies the filmmakers would use modern lizards on tabletop dioramas to portray prehistoric beasts, but in this movie, they are supposed to be modern lizards, just enlarged, so Bert I. Gordon gets a bonus point for that.
• We never do find out exactly what caused Bruce Barton’s cyclopean disfiguration, “Was it due to the plane crash” but we never know, and it’s never addressed.
There is not a lot to recommend from a film like The Cyclops because aside from the effectiveness of the titular character’s make-up, and the occasional fun freak-out by Lon Chaney Jr, the rest of the movie is rather bland and unengaging, with a group of protagonists who actually deserve to be eaten by a giant monster. And once again Bert. I Gordon is credited with being the man behind the film’s “special effects” but they are anything but special, they couldn’t even be bothered to spring for a giant paper-mâché, instead, we just get piss-poor opticals of the actor’s hand groping for his castmates, and as expected, most of these shots give the cyclops a very transparent look and are not the least bit convincing.
The makeup for the cyclops was handled by Jack Young, which as mentioned was one of the film’s few redeeming features, and the fact that the make-up appliance was later recycled for War of the Colossal Beast should surprise no one who is familiar with the budget-conscious Bert I. Gordon, but the film itself is thinly plotted with some of the goofiest dialogue ever uttered by an explorer or scientist. There is certainly an element of charm to watching these goofy low-budget movies but The Cyclops offers little in the way of thrills or chills and is mostly a forgettable affair. We do get to spend time in Bronson Canyon, so that’s nice.
The Cyclops (1957)
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
A movie about a “lost world” of giant creatures, one that also includes a 25-foot tall cyclops, should have been a lot more entertaining than what we got here, but Bert I. Gordon’s The Cyclops is just a little too dull for my liking.