Reporter Audrey Ames is driving along a highway in Illinois when she is stopped by the military. She then finds out that a small town was destroyed and everyone has seemingly disappeared. She then goes to a lab run by the Department of Agriculture. While she is there she meets the lab's director, Dr. Ed Wainwright. Ed then tells her that strange things have been happening ever since he discovered that a bunch of grasshoppers managed to get into a silo containing a batch of radioactive wheat. They soon discover that the grasshoppers have grown to monstrous proportions and not only are devouring the local vegetation, but have developed a taste for human flesh as well. Now the locusts are marching towards Chicago and the military is threatening to destroy the city with the atom bomb. Can another solution to stop the monsters be found before it is too late?
Peter Graves ... Dr. Ed Wainwright
Peggie Castle ... Audrey Aimes
Morris Ankrum ... Gen. John Hanson
Than Wyenn ... Frank Johnson
Thomas Browne Henry ... Col. Tom Sturgeon
Richard Benedict ... Cpl. Mathias
James Seay ... Capt. James Barton
John Close ... Maj. Everett
Don C. Harvey ... Guard at lab
Larry J. Blake ... Patrolman
Eilene Janssen ... Teenager necking in car
This is one of the most enjoyable of the 1950s "big bug" movies. Filmed in 1957, in the middle of my favorite sci-fi era, this film enjoys a better than average cast than you would expect for B science fiction.
People begin to disappear in the surrounding communities outside Chicago. Photographer/journalist Audrey Aimes, portrayed by the lovely Peggy Castle, stops to visit Dr. Wainwright, the Dept. of Agriculture scientist who has used radiation on his plants to make them larger, only to discover that grasshoppers have feasted on them, thus making an army of giant sized locusts. This sounds pretty lame by today's standards but this was standard fare for 1950s science fiction, in the days when we were scared to death of having a nuclear weapon dropped on us and being taken over "from within."
After the discovery of what has happened and why, the rest of the story deals with what to do before the grasshoppers destroy Chicago. Fortunately for all, this did not happen. I won't give the ending away be will provide a hint: View 1963's Day of the Triffids.
Reviewers have not been kind to this film and perhaps rightfully so. However, within the context of the preposterous story and extremely limited budget, its not so bad. Beginning of the End starred Peter Graves, a sci-fi regular of that time in his pre-Mission: Impossible days and whose brother, James Arness, was riding high as Marshall Dillon in television's Gunsmoke. (You may recall that Arness starred in 1954's Them!, about huge ants terrorizing Los Angeles. This was the film that started the big bug craze). Peggy Castle was cool and calm as the female lead and was a forerunner of sorts to today's' strong woman in action films. And, this was yet another film of many whereas Morris Ankrum played a military general.
Special effects were not too good even for that era and are downright atrocious by the standards of today. We see grasshoppers walking upon photos of various places in Chicago and the super imposed shots are of very poor quality. The storyline stretches even the keenest imagination, as we are led to believe that Chicago can be 100% evacuated within 24 hours, and this with thousands of homeless refugees from the outlying communities camping out in the inner city!
Even so, Beginning of the End possesses the low budget charm that subsequent eras have not been able to duplicate. This is one of those films that is fun to watch and is the sole reason one should do so. Saturday night late is the best time. I like to view it alone and recall a far simpler time in my life and our world at large. At least, the times seemed simpler. Perhaps they were not and that may be what films such as these were all about.
Beginning of the End was one of the scariest movies I ever saw. I saw it at the age of nine at our local first-time A-flick theater, the State. When it ran at the second-run B-flick theater, the Rialto, I dragged my little brother Jeff to see it. He watched it from between the seats. We used to sit up and watch Shock Theater and we knew scary when we saw it.
What a lot of people miss today, is that the popular science magazines at the time "Beginning..." came out were full of speculation about using radiation to enhance crops and livestock, just like the experiments in Peter Grave's agricultural station in the movie. I also remember that Bert Gordon's earlier movie, King Dinosaur, came out after a close approach to earth by an asteroid was in the news. These movies were ripped fresh from the headlines.
Yes, the low budget values are low. There's the ponderous pseudoWagnerian Albert Glasser music Da-DUM-da-da-da-DA-DUM motif for reporter-driving-down-road, cop-driving-down-road, reporter-stopping-at-road-block, etc. We see the mountains of Illinois that look suspiciously like southern California (at least they did not use Bronson Canyon in this one (they didn't did they?).)
Yes, they do use the same stock footage three times for rear projection behind characters "driving" down the road, but, hey, they DO tint the stock footage for the nighttime driving scene.
But the woman reporter, Peggy Castle, is not only a good looker, but a strong woman who is treated as a equal by most of the men, who show her respect. She is a tough cookie like Beverly Garland in It Conquered the World. Not a typical 1950s bimbo or weak sister. I always thought Peggy Castle's character taught Peter Grave's character how to be a man.
And when Morris Ankrum is in uniform, you know however dicey the situation, right and good will triumph in the end. Even in the Beginning of the End.
This movie does have a message: if you park on a lonely road and engage in illicit teenage necking, you will be eaten by giant mutant grasshoppers.
Ok, the special effects aren't very good. Otherwise, Beginning of the End is a decent 'giant animals run amok' movie. The acting is ok with Peter Graves doing a pretty good job in the lead role. Peggie Castle as Audrey Aimes also makes a nice heroine, although her role deteriorates into that of the comforting housewife as the movie progresses. The action is decent with lots of stock footage of army maneuvers and plenty of incidents between the army and the giant grasshoppers. The effects are terrible, with grasshoppers climbing up pictures of buildings and occasionally stepping off. The action is also dull for the first half. All in all, this movie isn't as bad as most of Burt I. Gordon's other efforts.
# 200 grasshoppers were used for the film. During the filming, they began to cannibalize one another, so by the time the last shots were done, only a dozen were left.
# The National Guardsmen wear the insignia of the U.S. 33rd Infantry Division, which is indeed the designated unit of the Illinois National Guard. The soldiers in Chicago wear the insignia of the U.S. Fifth Army, which at the time was headquartered in Chicago, where the film takes place.