There are still unexplored places on the globe which could harbour hitherto undiscovered forms of life, and here in the Amazon there are expeditions to find missing links or dead ends in evolution, such as the research conducted by Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno). Today he has hit the jackpot, for out in the jungle he and his assistants uncover a fossilised claw sticking out of the rock, and he cannot identify where it has come from. He takes it back to the United States and his friend David Reed (Richard Carlson), a diver and biologist who is immediately intrigued. But back in the Amazon, that creature might not be extinct...
Of all the nineteen-fifties science fiction chillers, Creature from the Black Lagoon had a sense of tradition about it. Crafted by the same team who had enjoyed a hit with It Came from Outer Space (also in 3D) the year before, it was produced by Universal, a studio which had a history of making monster movies lasting back to the twenties, and with its emphasis on the costume of the menace, a marvel of design which became almost instantly iconic, it was clear they were harking back to all those horrors which had been so popular during the previous two or three decades, not only in presenting its grotesque threat, but by adding a few shadings of complexity to what in other hands could have been a basic runaround.
Actually it was not so much the classic Universal shockers which the Creature was most influenced by, but more King Kong which had been an RKO effort, as our beast pined for female company as well as bumping off as many of the members of the new expedition to the Amazon as it can. As far as we can tell, he's the last of his line much as Kong was, and the object of his affection became inextricably linked to this signature movie just as Fay Wray had been to hers. The actress in question was Julie Adams (then Julia), the sole woman on the excursion and possibly the most beautiful of all the sci-fi heroines of this decade, manhandled by the Gillman and lusted after by at least two of her companions on the boat down the river to the lagoon.
She played Kay Lawrence, girlfriend of David, though the diver they have brought along, Mark Williams (Richard Denning - this wasn't the movie to watch if you got your Dennings and Carlsons mixed up), makes it clear in a few steady gazes that he wouldn't mind claiming her for himself. Mark is the most aggressive member of the party, so when they realise there is a missing link here (accompanied by its own shrill sting of brass every time it appears) which happens to have killed the two assistants we saw at the beginning, he is itching to fire his fancy harpoon gun into the Creature's scaly hide. David, on the other hand, takes a more scientific view and wishes to capture it for further examination, something Mark reluctantly goes along with eventually.
Of course, they don't know what they're dealing with, as this is no dumb animal but a rather more devious figure than anticipated. The presence of the young lady is the main catalyst for all the violence, that need to protect her and claim her for each of the three interested males' peace of mind and other satisfaction. When Adams took part in one of the most famous swims since Jane cavorted with Tarzan in Tarzan and his Mate, it was all too apparent what we were meant to be thinking, and what the Gillman was thinking too, as entranced he playfully follows Kay under the surface, gently nudging her feet and setting us on edge. Not only us, as David and Mark feel a mixture of high-minded biology research, mercenary urges to financially exploit their find, and the preocuppation to keep it away from Kay. If it all ends much as you'd expect (though with sequels), what could have been a hokey monster flick achieved a strong, primal mood which is why it endures: it's a surprisingly atmospheric film thanks to director Jack Arnold's skill.