“This is a troubled house. Real, deep, big trouble.” -Lou Ann (Ruby Goodwin)
Psychiatrists Dr. Lorimer (Bruce Bennett) and Dr. McGregor (Douglas Kennedy) have given one of their nurses a drug that will knock her out (temporarily) and force her to tell the truth. Jane Marvin (Beverly Garland) has been through a great trauma, but due to a bout of amnesia has been able to start a new life. The doctors want to get to the bottom of what happened in her past.
Under the influence of the drug, Jane reveals that she used to be known as Joyce Webster, newly wed to Paul Webster (Richard Crane). Something happened on the train as they traveled for their honeymoon, and Paul went missing.
Unwilling to just give up her new husband, Joyce set out on a quest to find Paul, heading to the Cypresses Plantation where he lived during college. At the plantation, she meets head of the house Lavinia Hawthorne (Frieda Inescourt) and slowly uncovers the terrible truth about what happened to Paul.
Shot in Cinemascope, The Alligator People was directed by Roy Del Ruth. The screenplay was written by Orville H. Hampton from a story Hampton co-wrote with Charles O’Neal.
Whenever I choose to watch a film from the 1950s with a title like The Alligator People, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I’m in for: endearingly bad special effects, over-the-top performances, a wacky plot. This film does have a few of those expected elements (a batty performance from Lon Chaney, a hilarious rubber alligator head used as a costume) but I have to say, overall, I was actually very impressed by this film!
The Alligator People takes a could-be campy concept and not only takes it seriously but, in many scenes, convinces the audience to do the same. It’s nicely written, constructed, and acted. The Cinemascope photography looks great, and the plot holds the viewer’s interest with ease.
There’s a hefty dose of mystery at play as Beverly searches for her missing husband, and the sci-fi/horror side of the story is both fun to watch and a fascinating concept. The consequence-laden “miracle treatment,” which can even help people grow back missing limbs, offers an inventive take on the human/creature hybrid “monster.”
I use “monster” in quotations here because while the bayou is full of dangers, an attack by Paul the alligator man isn’t one of them. The film does well by keeping many of Paul’s human qualities alive — including how much he cares for his wife, and wants what’s best for her. He isn’t turned into a bloodthirsty gator, but a victim of horrifying side effects to a cure that saved him from certain death.
The fact that Paul’s personality and sensitivity is maintained in his “monster” form sort of extends the film’s mystery. Even when we (and his wife) learn what’s happened to him, we remain desperate for answers. Can he be cured? If he can’t, will his wife continue to support him? Would he, as he believes, be better off dead?
Despite a few silly scenes and special effects, The Alligator People remains an above-average production. The bayou is wild and eerie, making it a perfect setting for this type of mystery mash-up. Great work is churned out by Garland and Inescourt, in terms of performance. And the story, running at just 75 minutes, is told very efficiently.
The wild ending, with Chaney’s character basically losing his mind and Paul morphing into that rubber-headed alligator, is a bit of a shark-jump which does somewhat cheapen the quality of the first three quarters of the film. But, it’s certainly entertaining, and on the whole, I remain impressed by The Alligator People.