Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

This movie is one of the strongest memories I have from watching Not Quite Classic Theatre, that late night TV show of my youth. As I mentioned previously, the show aired on Saturday nights and would present old black and white monster movies from the 1940s and ’50s. When I first started watching, there would always be three of them. The first would start at 10:00 PM, the next around midnight, and the last one at about 2:00 AM. My attention would shift over the course of the night. The first movie would suck me in and keep me glued to my seat. Sometimes during the second movie, I would stand up and pace around the room – still paying attention to the story, but also thinking about how I might write my own version of the story. I would watch some scenes closely, while others would play in the background as I developed my own ideas. By the time the third movie came on, I was often immersed in my own creation and would sit making notes on a pad of paper while the movie carried on quietly in the corner.

I can’t say I have very clear memories of those third movies, but I would occasionally look at the TV and think “This looks pretty good. Next time I’ll have to pay attention to it.” Sadly, there was no next time for most of those films, and now I can’t even remember what most of them were. Actually, even the ones I paid close attention to are mostly lost in time now. I know I saw a whole slew of giant bug movies, but exactly which ones I’m not sure. In some cases, I know I’ve seen a certain movie, but I just can’t be sure that it was Not Quite Classic Theatre where I saw it.

The Monolith Monsters (1957), on the other hand, I know I saw on Not Quite Classic Theatre. The images of the giant monoliths growing taller, and then toppling over to smash into a million pieces, have stuck in my mind for decades. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe because those strange rocks from outer space were different from every other monster and giant bug I had seen before (or since). They were threatening the world by merely existing, not by any kind of design or intention – and they looked really cool and convincing. My understanding is that the effects were achieved with miniatures, and they still look good today.

I also know that The Monolith Monsters was not the first feature of the night. It was either the second or the third. The fact that it has remained in my consciousness all of these years leads me to suspect that it was the second feature. I would have still been paying enough attention to it, to able to appreciate it. On the other hand, maybe those monoliths were so unique and eye-catching, that they jumped off the screen at me even during the third and final feature of the night.

Watching The Monolith Monsters again for the first time since Not Quite Classic Theatre went off the air and became an obscure reference that no one but me seems to understand, I was struck by how little of the story I seemed to remember. Basically, it was all new to me except for the monoliths themselves, growing tall and toppling over; smashing into little pieces and multiplying. I did not recognize any of the characters, or the scenes that moved the plot forward. In my memory, the movie focussed solely on the monoliths, with only the occasional interruption by screaming humans in peril. In reality, the scenes of the monoliths were interspersed occasionally throughout the human drama that is front and centre of this sci-fi spectacle. And as an adult aficionado of B-moves, I say bravo!

As cool as the scenes of the monoliths are (and they are very cool), the movie would become tedious pretty fast if that’s all that was going on. The human drama is what makes it all work. And for the record, there is a horrifying side-effect caused by the monoliths – which I had no memory of –  which causes much of the human drama and suspense.

The movie was directed by John Sherwood, who was a prolific assistant director. He only directed three feature films during his career, including The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The Monolith Monsters was his last film as a director. He might have made more, but he died only two years later at the age of 57. 

Grant Williams stars in The Monolith Monsters as Dave Miller, the head of the local geology department. He most famously played the title role in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Oddly enough, he died at age 53. It might be tempting to think that this movie was cursed, but co-star Lola Albright, who plays a schoolteacher and Dave’s love interest, lived to the ripe old age of 92. She is perhaps most remembered as a cast member of the Peter Gunn TV series (1958–1961). But she appeared on many shows, including two of my childhood favourites, The Incredible Hulk (1977–1982) and Quincy M.E. (1976–1983)

The Monolith Monsters (1957) is a very special kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema to me. It has all of the elements that I enjoy, but it was also part of the original Not Quite Classic Theatre lineup that inspired me to recreate the experience for myself all these years later (and brand it #NotQuiteClassicCinema). The nostalgia levels are off the charts with this one. And yet it has the perfect mix of stuff I’ve never forgotten, and stuff that seems completely new to me. A pure pleasure through and through. And althought I may be a little biased, I would recommend The Monolith Monsters for any movie marathon, or #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Not Quite Classic Cinema

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me tweet “Friday night at the home drive-in… #NotQuiteClassicCinema” I say may have seen because, let’s face it, if you follow a lot of people, you probably only see about 1% of them in your feed. I know I followed people years ago that I haven’t seen since. It’s a problem that I’ve been trying to rectify – but that’s a subject for another blog post…

If you’ve seen my Friday night tweets, you may have asked, “What is Not Quite Classic Cinema?” The answer to that question is the subject of today’s blog post.

“I sometimes worry that when I use the hashtag #NotQuiteClassicCinema someone will get the (wrong) impression that I am insulting the movie….”

When I was young, I discovered a TV show that aired late on Saturday nights. It was called Not Quite Classic Theatre. Perhaps ‘show’ isn’t the right word for it. It was a time slot during which the TV station would air old B-movies. At first (at least when I first saw it), they were showing black and white monster movies from the 1940s and ’50s, and there would always be three of them. The first would start at 10:00 PM, the next around midnight, and the last one at about 2:00 AM. I would watch the first one closely, glued to my seat. During the second one, I might get up and pace around the room, still watching but feeling energized, thinking about how I might tell the stories differently. The third one would play in the background while I wrote down notes and ideas for my own movies; movies I hoped I would get a chance to make one day.

I wish I could remember the titles of the movies I saw on Not Quite Classic Theatre, but it’s been so long that most of them are forgotten. One movie that I remember distinctly (although I didn’t know the title until I rediscovered it many years later), is Monster on the Campus (1958).

I saw this movie late one Saturday night on Not Quite Classic Theatre.

Monster On The Campus (1958): I saw this movie late one Saturday night on Not Quite Classic Theatre – and I loved it.

Another one that sticks out in my memory is The Monolith Monsters (1957).

The Monolith Monsters (1957): I paced around the room excitedly while this one lit up the TV screen.

The Monolith Monsters (1957): I paced around the room excitedly while this one lit up the TV screen.

I looked forward to these late-night delights all week long. Watching those old monster movies inspired and excited me in a way that no other movies had. I loved them, and I loved that they gave me ideas and made me want to write.

Like all good things, it didn’t last. First, they cut back from three movies to two. Then they dropped the second feature. But still, one cool monster movie a week was better than none, right?  I’ll never forget the night I tuned in and discovered that they weren’t showing an old black and white monster movie at all. Instead, it was a 1970s cop movie (to this day I can’t remember which one). I was very disappointed.

In retrospect, I probably would have liked the ’70s cop movie if I had given it a chance. ’70s movies are among my very favourites now. But this was the 80s, and I guess the ’70s didn’t seem all that exotic and interesting at the time.

I lost interest in Not Quite Classic Theatre after that, and it wasn’t too long before the whole show disappeared. Now I can hardly find any proof that it ever existed. So far, the only concrete evidence I know of is an old TV promo that someone kindly uploaded to YouTube. Check it out here (thanks retronewfoundland).

Not Quite Classic Theatre circa 1987.

Screenshot from Not Quite Classic Theatre circa 1987.

This promo was clearly from the later period of the show (after I stopped watching). But I’ll be damned if doesn’t make me want to to tune in to see Casino starring Mike Connors – from 1980?!

Several years ago, I decided to recreate the magic of Not Quite Classic Theatre with my own library of films. Every Friday night I would watch an old black and white horror or sci-fi movie. But after a while, much like the TV show, I started to expand my programming to include drive-in movies from the 1960s and ’70.  And then ultimately I chose to include movies that I first discovered by renting VHS and Beta tapes back in the 1980s (an activity that someone once said had taken the place of going to the drive-in).

When I joined Twitter, I decided to tweet about my Friday night movies. I typed “Friday night at the home drive-in” – and to pay homage to the TV show that got me started, I added the hashtag #NotQuiteClassicCinema. I chose “Cinema” as opposed to “Theatre” because I had spent a lot of years working in theatre (as a playwright, producer and director) so I wanted to be clear that I was talking about film, not my theatre exploits (many of which were not quite classics, either).

I sometimes worry that when I use the hashtag #NotQuiteClassicCinema someone will get the (wrong) impression that I am insulting the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of my Friday night choices are movies that I love – some of them are personal favourites of mine. This is why I sometimes use the phrase “A #NotQuiteClassicCinema fave!” – but I don’t always have space to include those extra words, and this is what made me decide to write this blog post thingy…

So, if I’ve ever called a movie you love #NotQuiteClassicCinema, please take no offence, and rest assured that I am likely as big a fan as you are.