In the Arizona desert, Professor Gerald Deemer is experimenting with growth hormones in the hopes of finding a way to increase the world’s food supply. His partner in the project was recently found dead in the desert, suffering from a disease that normally takes years to advance but, in his case, seems to have afflicted him in only a few days. The local doctor, Matt Hastings, is puzzled by the strange case and, with Deemer’s recently arrived (and very pretty) assistant, Stephanie Clayton, tries to figure out what is going on. When cattle remains are found in the countryside, evidence points to a giant tarantula as the culprit.
User Reviews: As someone who’ll kill a common house spider on sight, and as a resident of one of the the cooler regions of the United States, I try to watch the fifties sci-fi movie Tarantula whenever it’s on. Maybe I do it as therapy. I dunno. Or maybe I’m trying to convince myself that it really is better living in a city that has been known to have blizzards in April. Whatever. But enough about me. This Jack Arnold-directed movie was made for Universal-International at a time that studio wasn’t nearly the behemoth it is today. But U-I, or rather its management, wanted to be big, and were aiming to grow. Kind of like the eight-legged creature in this film.
The movie is set in an Arizona desert town whose handsome young Dr. John Agar is trying to solve the mysterious death of a man from a condition known as acromegaly (or acromegalia, as it’s called in the film). His quest takes him to the laboratory of research scientist Leo G. Carroll, who, though outwardly polite, clearly doesn’t want to be bothered. He doesn’t want his beautiful young assistant, Mara Corday, to be bothered, either, least of all by the romantic Dr. Agar.
As luck would have it, Carroll and his former associate and friend,–let’s call him the acromegaly man, and leave it at that–were working on a nutrient, a growth formula, that they hoped would cure world hunger. To make a long story short, one of the creatures they were experimenting on, a tarantula already the size of a Volkswagon, escaped from the lab when a former assistant, also suffering from acromegaly, set it on fire, as he had gone mad. He also injected Dr. Carroll with the growth formula that would in time give him acromegaly, too.
In a brief period of time the spider has grown to the size of a house, then an office building. He’s either very shrewd or very lucky to avoid being spotted, feasting mostly on ranchers and men in remote areas where he won’t be seen by others. Guns are useless against the big guy. Dynamite can’t kill him, either. He just ambles on right through it. The Air Force has to be called in. I won’t tell you any more because I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.
As big bug movies go, this one’s near the top of my list. It’s very well photographed, and the life of the small town is presented with just enough credibility so that even when the story gets a tad weird, the people seem real. I especially liked Nestor Paiva’s extremely (to put it mildly) aggressive performance as the sheriff. Forceful as he is, he’s never obnoxious, just assertive. Mara Corday doesn’t have much to do but look pretty, which she does superbly. The late John Agar is quite good as the town doctor. No, this isn’t George C. Scott we’re talking about, but Agar is competent. Also, there’s something about his looks, the eyes and cheekbones especially, that give him an alien, almost unreal aspect. It’s a perfect face for a fifties sci-fi hero. Slightly android.
Leo G. Carroll is his usual diffident self, and he does make a convincing scientist. There’s something about Carroll’s manner and delivery of dialog that makes you want to hear more. I wish he’d have more to say and more to do, and not just in this movie, in all the movies he appeared in. This isn’t exactly a star vehicle for him, but his role is substantial, and in a way it’s his low-key underacting that keeps the movie anchored in something that resembles reality. Put a more flamboyant type in the part, a Rathbone or a Lugosi, and the film would be over the top.