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Alligator People

The Alligator People (1959) starring Beverly Garland, Richard Crane, Lon Chaney Jr.

Synopsis of The Alligator People

In The Alligator People, a young wife (Beverly Garland) is abandoned by her husband on their wedding day. Distraught, she traces him to his ancestral home in the bayous of Louisiana, where, amid the swamps and deadly undergrowth, she discovers a terrible secret. Her husband was saved from death by an experimental medical procedure involving serum derived from alligators and now he’s developing horrifying side-effects. She’ll face any danger to help him but soon discovers her love may not be enough.

Review of The Alligator People

The train scene in The Alligator People, where Beverly Garland's husband has left the trainIn short, The Alligator People is an excellent horror movie from the 1950’s — because it’s an excellent movie.  It’s a story told in flashback, as Joyce Webster (Beverly Garland) is under hypnosis.  She’s telling the story that she’s repressed in order to deal with her life.  On their wedding night, she and her new husband Paul (Richard Crane) are traveling via train.  He receives a telegram and then disappears.  She begins searching for him, and finally follows her last lead …

It takes her to The Cypress plantation in the Florida Everglades.  She’s given an icy welcome by the owner, Mrs. Hawthorne, who denies knowing Paul.  But in truth, she does.  And it’s Paul, seen only in the shadows, who wants to drive her away.  For her own good.  But Joyce hears him playing the piano and runs after him as he flees.  She’s running through the dangerous swamp at night during a storm and is rescued by Manon (Lon Chaney, Jr.).

To this point in the movie, the audience is almost sympathetic towards Manon.  He’s taken a chance and brought Joyce to the Cypress.  He’s lost a hand to a gator, and thus is bitter with hatred towards them all.  But now he tries to get Joyce drunk, and when that fails he tries to bind her with a blanket and rape her.  It’s Paul who comes to her rescue, and after a fight with Manon, he rescues Joyce.  Manon swears revenge on the “gator man” but Joyce is finally reunited with Paul.  But Paul has changed …

To this point, the film has wisely kept Paul in the shadows.  He now is seen plainly, and he has mutated, covered with scales.  To save Paul’s life, and others, Dr. MacGregor did an experimental treatment.  He attempted to use the alligator’s ability to regenerate, and at first, it seemed successful.  But over time, side effects occur, with the people developing alligator traits.  Paul, despite being disfigured, is not the worst of them.

Dr. Mark Sinclair: Paul…
Paul Webster: Yes…
Dr. Mark Sinclair: I’ll never be able to tell you how sorry I am.
Paul Webster: Don’t blame yourself, I certainly don’t. Who can know everything? You’re not God, Mark.
Dr. Mark Sinclair: I feel as if I’ve been playing at it… and been punished.
Paul Webster: Forget it.

Clearly, the doctor is racked with guilt, and trying to fix what went wrong.  But Paul is impatient and wants to look human and be reunited with his wife.  And the drunken Manon wants his revenge …

The only real negative that I have about the movie is the final part, where Paul is mutated even further, and the “alligator man” costume looks simply silly.  Other than that, The Alligator People is well acted, with people that the audience comes to care about.  I recommend it and rate it 3.5 stars.

Cast of characters in The Alligator People

  • Joyce Webster (Beverly GarlandD.O.A.The Neanderthal ManMy Three Sons).   The protagonist of the story, who is looking for her missing husband.  She’s very likable, determined, and indomitable.   A very sympathetic character.
  • Paul Webster (Richard CraneMysterious Island, Rocky Jones Space Ranger).  Joyce’s husband, who disappears on their wedding night after receiving a telegram.  After she eventually tracks him down, he stays in the shadows … and loves and protects her from a distance.
  • Dr. Eric Lorimer (Bruce BennettThe Treasure of the Sierra MadreSahara).  The scientist who devised a radical treatment to save Paul’s life after a disaster.  He works to reverse the side effects for Paul and the others affected.  Also a sympathetic character, not the traditional mad scientist.
  • Mrs. Lavinia Hawthorne (Frieda InescortMary of ScotlandA Place in the Sun).  The matriarch of the Cypress Plantation.  At first, she denies knowing of Paul and is ice-cold towards Joyce.  But it’s all a facade at the request of her son … Paul.
  • Manon (Lon Chaney Jr.The Wolf ManSon of Dracula).  A bitter, alcoholic man who lost one hand to an alligator.  He works at the Cypress, and at first seems somewhat sympathetic.  But he’s not above attempted rape and is willing to murder.
  • Dr. Wayne MacGregor (Douglas Kennedy, Dark PassageThe Amazing Transparent Man).  The psychiatrist who employs Jane Marvin … and in hypnosis finds that she’s Joyce.

Editorial review of The Alligator People courtesy of Amazon.com

When Jane’s husband disembarks from a passenger train immediately after their wedding and disappears without a trace, troubling questions are raised. How could his face, mangled beyond recognition in a plane crash during the war, have healed without any scarring? And what unspeakable acts took place on the alligator-ridden bayou plantation he left as an address? Wonderfully haunted, The Alligator People explores the mystery with skillful pacing, generally decent dialogue, and only intermittently laughable special effects.

Miscegenation, anxiety over radiation and atomic science, homoeroticism, distrust of doctors and medicine, fear of the American South–all the major cultural obsessions of the late ’50s are either tacitly or explicitly represented here; perhaps that’s why the far-fetched scientific premise that underlies the plot makes a weird resonance despite its utter implausibility. The ubiquitous Lon Chaney is on hand, and his performance as a drunken swamp rat with a penchant for violence is a hoot; but the real star of the show is Beverly Garland, whose inspired lead, alternately detached and histrionic, decidedly puts to rest the myth of the inelasticity of early sci-fi and horror performers. A winner. –Miles Bethany

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