"Mammoth Skyscrapers Of Stone Thundering Across The Earth !"
1957’s THE MONOLITH MONSTERS was one of the last of Universal’s “A” list sc-fi movies of the 50’s as by now faced by every growing competition from T.V. the company as a cost saving measure would regulate them to the “B” division and use them as 2nd features on dbl. bills. MONOLITH MONSTERS is also unique in that it featured a “monster” that was a wholly non-living natural element and was propagated without any interference or nudge from man. In addition the military is not involved in anyway, as it's just left to science to save the world (specifically geology).
If you grew up in the 60’s/early 70’s (when these were regularly shown on T.V.) next to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, INVADERS FROM MARS and THEM!, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is probably the one movie that made a wrinkle in your brain. The sight of huge rock formations jutting up thru the earth falling down & re-growing from the broken fragments (while crushing little model buildings) was an awe inspiring sight. Plus there’s the added enticement of turning anyone who comes in contact with them to stone (and not to mention if you were a male just reaching a certain age there was the attraction of Lola Albright).
At first thought the idea of growing rocks sustaining a movie plot (even one at only 77 min.) might seem a bit of a stretch (and at times it is). The original story by upon which the screenplay was based on was conceived by Robert Fresco and Jack Arnold. Arnold was Universal’s go to science fiction guy in the 1950’s and directed such classics as CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN,IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE & TARANTULA. He seemed to have a special affinity for small town desert settings (as was MONOLITH) and this was most likely originally conceived as a project for him. Arnold however had just been promoted out of the sc-fi ranks at Universal into the more (as it was perceived at the time) prestigious dramas - where he unfortunately faltered causing him to bolt to Paramount. It’s a shame Arnold didn’t get to helm THE MONOLITH MONSTERS as he might have been able tweak up some of the scripts weaker elements.
Opening spectacularly with hyperbole filled narration by Paul Frees concerning meteors crashing into the earth (which is shown by an outtake from IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE). Geologist Ben Gilbert (Phil Harvey) discovers some weird looking rocks, takes them back to his office in the small desert town of San Angelo and the next day his co-worker Dave Miller (Grant Williams) discovers his body petrified and the office overrun with huge pieces of the same rock. The town's other main citizens include the sheriff (William Flaherty), a grouchy newspaperman (Les Tremayne), local doctor (Richard Cutting – sporting a tremendous pompadour) and school teacher Cathy Barrett, played by Lola Albright (who’s also serves as Grant Williams’ love interest).
Ginny, one of Cathy’s young students has also taken a piece of the rock home and the nighttime discovery of her wreaked home along with the petrified remains of her parents is one the creepier moments in the film. Discovering Ginny’s hand has started to petrify Dave & Cathy take her to a specialist in Los Angeles, where Dave also hooks up with a Professor Flanders (Trevor Bardette) to help uncover the mystery of the growing rocks. Unfortunately as we’re only dealing with rocks here, we don’t get that really cool staple of 1950’s sci fi movies – the scientist pulling out the 16 mm projector and showing us a short educational film on whatever peril we’re facing (which in other films is usually regarding a giant insect).
The discovery of the catalyst for the growing rocks (and their subsequent Achilles heel) takes an agonizing long time (mostly as a reason to pad out the plot), as no matter how many times I’ve seen this film, I always want just scream” It’s ….. !!”). The dialogue is sometime rather stilted and formal sounding, which is one of the things that maybe Jack Arnold might have helped with and as to be expected the secondary characters are rather one dimensional . As the town's newspaperman Les Tremayne mostly just stands around and complains about being a newspaperman, while the sheriff stands around waiting for Grant Williams to tell him what to do. Tremayne was best known for playing military men and stuffy executives and is probably best remembered as the general in WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Lola Albright (who worked steadily up till the mid 1980’s) and usually played women of somewhat ill-repute, is almost unbelievably (even sickeningly) sweet here, but however does looks great in her slacks. Grant Williams (who seemed to alternate in these movies with John Agar) had just come off THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and does his best here to turn a civil servant geologist into the nominal hero of the film. In a short & amusing bit as a somewhat befuddled weatherman, William Schallert almost steals the entire movie (except for the rocks).
For whatever faults the movie does have they are redeemed by the exceptional special effects and model work by Clifford Stine (who had worked on KING KONG) and Frank Brendel. Although obviously just pushed up thru the model table, the huge growing rocks (looking like cyclopean Lovecraft cities) are a true sight to behold as they topple over and shoot upwards again.