You might remember there was a wave of "cheap teen movies" coming out at that time. They were tailored for the drive-in market. We here in Morris MN had a drive-in located where the Hosanna church is now. The content of many of those movies was troubling. Such fare reflected badly on our culture.
Perhaps the minds behind "The Blob" were surreptitiously intending for their work to land at a classier level. The movie was decent and civilized, showing believable people in respectable roles. The basic sci-fi premise, when considered by itself, suggested "cheap." But "The Blob" became an endearing movie for generations. It started out as part of a double feature package, partnered with a movie that was clearly at the bottom tier, with the title "I Married a Monster From Outer Space."
The merits of "The Blob" were noted in short order. It was quickly moved up to feature film status. I think Roger Ebert would have liked it. He felt movies should be judged by whether they accomplish what they set out to accomplish. Ebert gained renown as the film critic representing the common folk.
Movie audiences did in fact like "The Blob." Movie critics were an effete class at that time. Perhaps sensing the movie's niche in the market, they were not very generous. One said the movie "talks itself to death." The characters are indeed well-developed. It's so much more than an alien monster wreaking havoc.
It would have been easy to make the movie based on the sheer terror element, and the movie would have come and gone. Instead we see an interesting assortment of characters who in fact have considerable dialogue, but I consider that a plus.
We see "The Blob" on cable movie channels today. People my age all seem to remember it. I decided to ponder this and make a conclusion. I concluded that "The Blob" renders small town America in such a genuine way. It conveys the peacefulness and predictability of life in your typical American small town of the mid-20th Century. Everything is very ordered. People are mutually supportive. We see the police in an endearing way. The top-ranking officer interacts with the teenagers in a caring way, going beyond the mere authority of his role. He knows the kids and their parents. Today, officers just make the rounds and coldly issue citations. "The Blob" was way before the "broken windows" philosophy. The police use discretion. Their job was simply to maintain order. They were embedded with the town's social fabric.
An empathetic policeman
A very significant scene in "The Blob" is where the Steve McQueen character, a teen (despite McQueen being 27 years old), tries to convince the top cop that the monster story is real, not a silly prank or ruse. McQueen implores the man. There's a pause, and then we appreciate the wisdom of that cop who does not seek to diss the young man despite the apparent ridiculousness. The officer says he believes McQueen, at a time the tension is increasing dramatically.
The juxtaposition of teens and adults is important in the movie. They clearly belong in separate classes, yet we realize all are brethren in the charming small town framework. We appreciate the sense of distress when something horrifying happens in the still of night in such a serene place. Small towns in the 1950s projected a Norman Rockwell air. Not yet had the challenge of adjusting to ethnic diversity presented itself. Yes, the population had a homogeneous nature, perhaps the kind of world that Donald Trump would want to restore.
Norman Rockwell presented an idyllic view of America that invited a fair share of criticism. Everything was so ordered, instilling self-assurance in all, yet there was an inability to adjust to circumstances that disrupted that norm. An alien monster arriving on a meteor would be quite the example of disruption. Is there Cold War symbolism? Maybe, but that didn't jump out at me. These were the "Ike" Eisenhower years when rock 'n' roll music emerged as a threat in the eyes of many older folks, comparable to a space monster!
The teens in the movie are immature but they are not reckless. We easily see them making the transition to adulthood in an orderly fashion. Again, they are believable. A movie with sustained popularity must have believable characters.
Terror at the movie theater!
Another significant scene, really the signature scene of the movie, has young people streaming out of the movie theater, horrified with the realization that the monster is upon them.
"The Blob" is remembered as Steve McQueen's debuting role. He did not foresee big things for this movie. He got only $3000 for his efforts. He turned down an offer for a smaller up-front sum with ten percent of the profits. He needed money immediately and did not think the movie would be boffo. He was under pressure for his basic living expenses! "The Blob" ended up grossing $4 million.
Burt Bacharach co-wrote the title song which became a hit. It was a tongue-in-cheek song.
The New York times reviewer was not impressed with the special effects. Interesting. Pondering this, I realize that the effects were awfully basic, not multi-layered: the monster is just a mass of, well - Jello would be a way to describe. I'm reminded of the Mad Magazine satire of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." At the end, when the heroes have disposed of a blob-like menace under water, a character says "Boy, I'll never eat another bowl of Jello." Rimshot.
You know, our popular culture can affect eating habits. We've had a generation that has felt some aversion to fried eggs. That's because of the PSA about "this is your brain on drugs." Thank you Nancy Reagan, I think.
A prime trait of successful sci-fi film is to encourage the viewers to extrapolate from what's on the screen into your imagination. "The Blob" does this beautifully. The monster slides around in the night with no sophistication, just with its menacing presence. It grows bigger as it consumes more humans. The violence is not real explicit. Again, we can tap our imagination. This is not a sensational movie with blood etc. We know what's going on without gratuitous scenes, thus the movie maintains a sense of class, so contrary to the template that it appears to have been designed for. A drive-in movie! "The Blob" so clearly transcended that.
McQueen's significant other in the movie is played by Aneta Corsaut, who would go on to be "Helen Crump" on the Andy Griffith Show. McQueen plays "Steve" whose task is to warn the townspeople on what should be a sleepy night in a small town.
Boy with a retro toy
We see a boy, the brother of the Corsaut character, try to threaten the monster with a cap gun. Cap guns were a toy staple for boys of the boomer generation. Today no parent would allow a child to run around with a facsimile gun as a toy. That 12-year-old in Cleveland got killed by police when he did this. All it takes is someone calling 9-1-1.
We must salute 1958's "The Blob" for its true sci-fi quality on such a modest budget. It was in league with "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," to be sure. On the other end of the spectrum: "Cleopatra."
Shooting of "The Blob" took a speedy three weeks. Barton Sloane was the "monster maker" who overcame his very limited budget. He was ingenious.
The cinematic moral of "The Blob" story is this: Respect your audience and tell a story that comes across as authentic. Your characters should be interesting and genuine. "The Blob" realizes these ideals, and is thus in the pantheon of movies that stay in our consciousness.