The Blob is one of those sci-fi films several generations grew up watching on TV, scaring fans when they were kids, and providing good laughs from the movie's bountiful clichés, and seeing 27 year old Steve McQueen earning his rent money playing a high school teenager.
Co-commentator and film historian Bruce Eder is spot-on in signaling The Blob as a slice of fifties youth culture made by filmmakers outside of the Hollywood system; the film captures a genteel teenage world free from the gang violence and serious emotional problems seen in studio-produced exploitation flicks, but it's not a gloss-over much in the way Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best had the kids learning a valuable moral lesson from the grownups.
Director Irvin S. Yeaworth was an independent filmmaker, producing 16mm religious films for an international market, and while the kids (ruffians and hooligans included) end up helping the town free itself from the gooey menace, the adults aren't portrayed as infallible moral leaders; they're goofy, sometimes a bit lazy, and have their own prejudices in taking the time to listen to the kids who're being earnest in trying to stop an invading force. More interesting, as Eder observes, are the police members who are acknowledged in the script as WWII veterans, and the pop culture practice of kids going to see old movies at a local spook show.
Although directed and cast with some members of Yeaworth's religious filmmaking collective, the film was designed as straight sci-fi feature. Yeaworth's commentary track (edited with observations from actor Robert Fields) reveals the director as an easygoing pro, which is probably why veteran publicity man Jack H. Harris began a partnership with the director that lasted three films; both men wanted to take a stab at making a 35mm colour feature (a first for the director and his crew), and they were more than giddy when Paramount picked up the movie, and it became a top grossing production.
The production and subsequent popularity proved to be an empowering venture for Yeaworth, and Harris moved towards a more hands-on role as producer, which the director supported in their subsequent films, 4-D Man (exploring some fascinating sci-fi themes), and Dinosaurus! (which was unfortunately aimed at kids, resulting in the juvenile misadventures of a caveman and perplexed locals).
Although one of Criterion's early DVD releases, the transfer is still sharp, if not radiant; Harris insisted on a professional look, and while the original cinematography is heavy on the contrast, the results are colours that burst from the screen with remarkable crispness and clarity. (Should the label take a plunge into Blu-Ray, The Blob ought to be among the first titles deserving a high-def transfer.)
The sound mix is pretty straightforward, and both commentary tracks pay tribute to Ralph Carmichael's wonderful score, which also integrated a love theme composed by Yeaworth and his wife. (In addition to being an ordained minister, the director also was also the church organist, which often curtailed shooting time on Sundays during The Blob's production.)
The commentary tracks are very solid narratives of the film's production, and both offer distinct views on the film, as well as fond and funny recollections of Steve McQueen. The first intercuts Bruce Eder's observations and bridge comments with material from producer Harris, and the latter provides some excellent snapshots of bygone film exhibition during the late fifties, when salesmen had their own specific state territories.
Harris also discusses some of the veteran character actors in the film (including Olin Howland, who played the ‘make me a sergeant' hospital drunk in Them!), and plenty of apocrypha, including the movie Daughter of Horror (aka Dementia), the 1955 cult film Harris once owned that plays in the theatre where the blob makes its central suburban appearance.
Yeaworth's strongest observations are as a pioneering independent filmmaker, and like Harris, he explains why he stopped directing commercial feature films after Dinosaurus! and chose to focus on his ministry, using the training and knowledge acquired from his Harris ventures for further religious-based productions.
Comments from actor Fields (he played the rebellious teen that ultimately helps McQueen) are actually quite incisive; the most compelling thoughts are of a stage actor who eventually became a member of The Actor's Studio, and had to downplay his involvement with The Blob - a radically contrast to the serious work the actor sought out as the shadow of the purple blob evolved into a pop culture icon.
The DVD also includes some of the early poster art and subsequent international posters, and one can see Harris' exploitation hands in the campaign upgrade that emphasized McQueen in the artwork, looking a lot manlier than the high school twerp he portrayed.
Harris later produced the cult film Equinox (1970), plus the mothballed sequel, Beware! The Blob (aka Son of the Blob) in 1972. The Blob was remade 30 years later by Chuck Russell in 1988, with oozing gore.
Note: for more info on Ralph Carmichael's score, click HERE for an interview with David Schecter, historian and producer of the soundtrack CD.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan