Saturday, March 31, 1973 (Noon): The H-Man (1958) / The Giant Claw (1957)

hmanposterSynopsis: On a rainy night in Tokyo, gangster Misaki (Hisaya Ito) has made a pickup as part of a drug deal. He holds a briefcase filled with illegal narcotics and is preparing to place it in the trunk of an idling car on the street, but sees something that terrifies him. He screams and fires his gun. The driver waiting in the car, alarmed at the gunshots, drives off. Police arriving on the scene find only Misaki’s clothes and personal effects.

Inspector Tominaga (Akihito Hirada) finds the circumstances curious, but he feels sure Misaki has double-crossed the organization he worked for and will have shown up at the home of his girlfriend Chikako (Yumi Shirakawa). Bringing her in for questioning, she insists that she hasn’t seen him for several days. And she insists that she doesn’t need to rely on Misaki for money — she makes good money of her own as a singer in a Tokyo nightclub.

Nevertheless, Tominaga believes that all the police need to do is tail Chikako — she is pretty, he tells his associates, so pretty that Misaki won’t leave her by herself for long. They watch both her apartment and the nightclub. One of the members of Misaki’s gang slips in through the window and threatens her — but when he leaves the same way, he screams at something in the rain and fires his gun. The police rush to where the gunshots were fired, but there’s nothing left but the gangster’s clothes.


At the nightclub, the police arrest a man who manages to get in to see Chikako in her dressing room. But he’s not with the gang, nor is he a friend of Misaki’s. He tells the police his name is Dr. Masada (Kenji Sahara), a nuclear physicist who is investigating a strange theory. The police throw him out but he comes to the police station the next day, and Tominaga allows him to question Chikako. Masada asks if Misaki had ever been exposed to radiation, or been on board a ship that had been in range of an H-bomb test. When Tominaga asks what any of this has to do with Misaki’s disappearance, Masada replies that he believes Misaki might have been exposed to a nuclear phenomenon, one so powerful it can dissolve a man to a liquid — a liquid that, despite all appearances, is still alive….



Comments: A clever blend of the sci-fi and Yakuza genres, Ishiro Honda’s The H-Man begins as a police procedural, with Inspector Tominaga doggedly trying to figure out what happened to a missing gangster who disappeared during a narcotics deal, leaving only his clothes behind. Tominaga is a cop, and if a guy leaving all his clothes behind on the rainy streets of Tokyo looks a little weird to him, he’s not going to let it show.

The mob wants to know where Misaki’s gone too, and both parties zero in on the beautiful Chikako, whom they believe has had some contact with Misaki. The truth is, she hasn’t seen him and she has no idea where he is. She claims to have been completely unaware of her boyfriend’s underworld activities, but it’s unclear if we can trust what she says.

On the surface Chikako appears to be the sort of woman commonly found in midcentury Japanese cinema: she is sweet, submissive and child-like. She defers endlessly to the men around her, and spends more time worrying about men like Misaki than she does about herself.

Yet she is also a popular nightclub singer, and seeing her toggle between the two roles — sweet, submissive girlfriend and seductive, western-style lounge siren — is quite jarring.

Is Chikako’s dual nature an intentional statement of some kind, or is this just some idealized housefrau-in-the-streets, nightclub-temptress-in-the-sheets fantasy concocted by undersexed Japanese screenwriters? I’m going to go with the latter. This is, after all, a monster movie.


It takes a while for the monster subplot to develop, but it arrives finally with the appearance of Kenji Sahara’s Dr. Masada. Masada arrives a bit late in the game to be the standard hero scientist / love interest for Chikako, but better late than never. Perhaps because of his delayed arrival, Yumi Shirakawa gets top billing over Kenji Sahara. It’s nice to see these two again, after appearing together in Honda’s Rodan two years earlier.

It’s nice to see everyone again, to be honest. Ishiro Honda clearly liked to use the same actors over and over again, and we’re treated to a host of familiar faces: Akihiko Hirata (Gojira, Mothra, King Kong v. Godzilla, Gorath) plays Tominaga, Yoshio Tsychiya (Battle In Outer Space, Destroy All Monsters, The Human Vapor) is one of the detectives, as is Yoshifumi Tajima (Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla v. Mothra). Koreyo Senda (Battle In Outer Space) plays the same older scientist here that he did there.

The H-Man is a superbly paced movie, holding back the mystery (and the impressive dissolving-into-goo effects) as late as possible. The first third of the movie is more or less a straight-up gangster film; then after a long sequence of frog-melting in a lab we get down to business, flashing back to the six men melted to sludge on a ghost ship (a very tense and effective scene) and the hunt for the “H-Man” across the city.  The film ends with a thrilling chase through the Tokyo sewer system that plays a bit like The Third Man if Harry Lime had been melted into ooze in the final moments.

As usual, Ishiro Honda deserves a lot of credit for staging this movie so effectively; even the most pedestrian scenes in the police station are given visual interest through smart screen compositions and he is a master at building and sustaining tension. He also excels at drawing solid performances out of actors who might otherwise give indifferent performances in a genre movie like this one. Every member of the cast seems fully committed to the project, and that’s pretty impressive in a movie about guys getting eaten by a radioactive slime-man.

Masaru Sato delivers a thrilling score for this picture that rivals the best of what was being written for Hollywood SF movies of the time.



The Giant Claw


Synopsis: A team of researchers are working on a Cold War military project in the arctic, and pilot / electrical engineer Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) is doing test flights over the base. Mitch is seen as unnecessarily flippant and smart-alecky by the military brass, but he gets away with it, we’re told, because as a civilian on the project he doesn’t answer to the military chain of command. His antics are particularly annoying to the beautiful Sally Caldwell (Mara Cordray), mathematician and the other civilian on the project.

On one of his test flights Mitch sees something make a very close pass to his aircraft. It appears to him as an indistinct blur, moving at incredible speed. However, he sees just enough to convince him that whatever it was is “as big as a battleship” and he reports it in. Soon aircraft are scrambled to look for it. When Mitch returns to base he is reprimanded for filing a frivolous report: the object Mitch described didn’t appear on radar and wasn’t seen by any of the pilots. However, one pilot lost control of his aircraft and was killed. That in the military’s eyes, makes Mitch’s “prank” all the more egregious.


Stung, Mitch nevertheless insists that he did see what he describes. He and Sally are on a military flight back down to the United States when something strikes their aircraft, incapacitating the pilot. Taking the controls, Mitch manages a crash-landing in Canada and, while waiting for the military to arrange alternate transport, they wind up in the care of French-Canadian rustic Pierre, who entertains them both with his outrageous accent and copious amounts of homebrewed “applejack”.

However, Pierre leaves the house and returns in an apoplectic state, claiming to have seen “la Carcagne” — a flying monster of French-Canadian folklore. 

On the plane ride back to the the U.S., Mitch begins to see a pattern, and after planting a kiss on the (sleeping) Sally he demonstrates to her that the creature– whatever it is — seems to be moving outward in a spiral from the area in which it was first sighted.

With more sightings of the beast, it is revealed to be a gigantic bird of prey that eats both aircraft and the people inside them. All conventional weapons prove useless against the creature. General Considine (Morris Ankrum)  puts Mitch and Sally in charge of gathering what information they can, and they are soon joined by Dr. Karyl Noymann, (Edgar Barrier) who theorizes that the monster is made of antimatter and is the relic of some alien solar system….


Comments: Often derided as a “so-bad-its-good” turkey suitable only for mockery, The Giant Claw is an extremely low-rent Columbia affair from 1957 that isn’t quite as bad as its reputation suggests — though it is certainly lazy and derivative. The ridiculous bird puppet at the heart of the movie has gotten so much attention over the years that no one seems to notice just how much the movie lifts directly from Warner’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms:

  • Both films begin at an arctic research station.
  • In both, the lead character is a scientist who reports seeing a giant monster and is ridiculed for it.
  • The scientist is later vindicated when the creature approaches populated areas and begins wreaking havoc.
  • When the creature proves invulnerable to guns and missiles, the scientist develops an unconventional weapon in order to destroy it.

Of course, Beast came four years earlier and had the better script. In that film, the creature was a dinosaur that had been frozen in ice and released by an atomic explosion. Not the most convincing scenario, but at least there’s a discernible cause and effect: we dropped an atom bomb in the wrong place, and bad things happened as a result.


The Giant Claw doesn’t attempt even that level of plausibility. A giant carnivorous bird “from another galaxy” just shows up in our skies for no particular reason? It’s made out of antimatter and this is why it’s invulnerable to our weapons? This doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sure. You do you, Giant Claw.

Then, when the plot demands it, we’re told something entirely different. Now it’s a bird made of conventional matter, but protected by an “antimatter screen” which it can lower — somehow — just enough to devour the planes (and people) it needs for sustenance (the antimatter “screen” doesn’t seem to protect the giant egg the monster lays either, as it’s easily destroyed by Sally and Mitch with rifles).

Despite the shopworn story and risible dialogue (“looks like I’m chief cook and bottle-washer in a one-man bird-watching society!” Mitch declares at one point, and the monster is declared “as big as a battleship” an absurd number of times) Morrow, Cordray and Ankrum play it absolutely straight and do as well as any actors could with the material. The Giant Claw would probably be regarded as a standard-issue monster movie of the era had Ray Harryhausen provided the creature effects. Harryhausen had worked for Sam Katzman twice before — on It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) (also directed by Fred F. Sears) But for whatever reason (there are differing accounts) Harryhausen wasn’t available for this picture — and that leads to the most famous deficiency in the film.



As the story goes, Sam Katzman contracted with some outfit in Mexico to produce the “antimatter bird” for the film, and when the thing was delivered, it turned out to be the most laughable movie monster ever produced. In a number of interviews star Jeff Morrow has talked about going to the premiere and being aghast when, instead of the sleek, hawklike bird of prey described in the script, a goofy-looking buzzard puppet showed up instead. Embarrassed by the gales of laughter from the audience, Morrow sneaked out of the theater.

It seems a little hard to believe that a producer would outsource work of this kind without so much as a concept drawing, but maybe the thing looked better on paper than it did “in the flesh”. Or maybe Katzman had been spoiled by Harryhausen, who could take an idea from script to screen and make it brilliant without any hand-holding.

One interesting note about the movie is the presence of Dr. Karyl Noymann. Dr. Noymann would later appear in another film penned by Samuel Newman, Invisible Invaders (1959), suggesting a shared universe between the two movies. After helping rid the world of a giant antimatter bird from another galaxy, Noymann gets killed and possessed by invisible aliens bent on world domination.  All seems a bit unlikely, doesn’t it? The character was played by Edgar Barrier in The Giant Claw, and John Carradine in Invisible Invaders.




One comment

  1. THE H-MAN is one of the more underrated Toho efforts, but almost as eerie as MATANGO aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. THE GIANT CLAW is as laughable now as it was then.


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