Blockbuster Blunders: “The Alligator People”


I have to admit up front —I really enjoyed this week’s film.

“The Alligator People” (1959) was like a 30-minute “Twilight Zone” episode expanded into an hour and a half film — questions arise, mystery and supernatural forces ensue and there’s always a twist at the end (even if that twist is terribly predictable).

The film’s plot was silly, but the acting was legitimate. The special effects were simple, yet creative.

In the deep swamps of Louisiana lurks a secret that none of the bayou folks are willing to give up, even for love. Newlyweds Joyce and Paul take a train to their honeymoon destination and discuss Paul’s recent plane crash during war. Though damage to his body was devastating, he had miraculously healed. A messenger interrupts the happy couple with an urgent telegram for Paul. The minute the train makes a pit stop Paul flees the train without a word, leaving Joyce to wonder if he’ll ever return.

Years pass with no sign of Paul or any clues to his disappearance. All his records have been cleared, except one — the name and location of his high school in Louisiana. Apparently, for a time, his residence was an old plantation home.

Joyce takes a train and arrives in the bayou grounds of Louisiana. When she reaches the plantation, the owner, Lavinia “Vinnie” Hawthorne, insists that Joyce leave when she gives the name of her estranged husband (hm, you think she knows something?). The butler reminds Vinnie that Joyce can’t leave because no more trains leave for the day. So, Joyce stays for the night, under the condition that she doesn’t leave her room at any point (totally not suspicious or anything).

In only a day’s time, Joyce pieces together the puzzle of her husband’s sudden disappearance and how he is directly connected to the bayou and the home. Now she’s left wondering, “Who, or what, had he become?” (If the title didn’t give it away, I certainly won’t).

The acting in “The Alligator People” is fairly convincing, even with the unnecessary high-pitched screams of terror Joyce lets out. It’s classic ‘50s horror. In the time of cheesy black and white horror films, actors always had a way of making every situation irresistibly dramatic, especially over the most asinine situations. Joyce had a few of these, though I’d say her situation was pretty legit.

Director Roy Del Ruth made a strong effort in creating decent, creative special effects for cheap. During any swamp scenes, live alligators glided along the watery banks, licking their chops (or lazily hanging out on a log in the background). Del Ruth even threw in a few alligator wrestlers to wrangle the lurking beasts. However, the special effects at the end of the film were oh-so-terrible, but hysterical.

I found the plot rather creative, and for what it was, logical and conceivable. Most horror films of the day never really had motives behind any of the crazy happenings that went on, they just were. Though predictable, “Alligator People” actually had a plausible explanation for the crazy turn of events surrounding Paul’s disappearance.

I’d put “The Alligator People” down in my book as one of the better Blockuster Blunders of our series. It was charming and silly, but smart in its own right.

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