The U.S. government is conducting experiements on the effects of exposure to space radiation by sending animals briefly into orbit. Following a malfunction, one of the rockets stays in space longer than planned, and is lost from the scientists' radar screens. Later, Dr. Brady, one of the rocket scientists, reads a news report about strange occurances in Central Africa. Theorizing that it may be the irradiated test wasp wreaking havoc in the jungle, he organizes an expedistion to investigate.
Jim Davis ... Dr. Quent Brady
Robert Griffin ... Dan Morgan (as Robert E. Griffin)
Joel Fluellen ... Arobi
Barbara Turner ... Lorna Lorentz
Eduardo Ciannelli ... Mahri
Vladimir Sokoloff ... Dr. Lorentz
Ah, the 1950's. If you wanted to make a monster movie all you had to do was insert the word "radiation" into the script and that explained where the monster came from, no further explanation was necessary. Hey, I like this film and I make no apologies for liking it. The stop motion animation for the monsters is pretty good, especially that scene where a giant wasp battles a python. Sadly there is an awful lot of jungle and not enough monster.
Jim Davis is a scientist firing rocket after rocket full of test animals into space to see what happens when they are exposed to radiation (our tax dollars at work!), this will show what future astronauts have to expect. I guess Jim never saw the movie FIRST MAN INTO SPACE or he would already know. Anyway a rocket full of wasps gets lost up there and eventually crashes in a remote African jungle. Let's not even ask why they launched a bunch of insects into space when they want to see what effect radiation has on mammals; just keep repeating "It's only a movie, only a movie, only a movie . . .". Concluding "There'a a lot of difference between 40 seconds of exposure and 40 hours." Jim packs up and heads for Africa.
Meanwhile the wasps have mutated into giants (what? you're surprised?) and are terrorising an area aptly named "green hell". The local doctor (Vladimir Sokoloff) believes the stories of monsters are nothing but superstition but his native pal Arobi (Joel Fluellen) reminds him "Does an elephant run from superstition? Will a bird not light in a tree because of superstition?" Score one for you, Arobi!
Jim and company have to walk 400 miles through the jungle to reach green hell and have to deal with no rain, poison waterholes and hostile natives before they arrive. When they finally do get there it's just them against the monsters and they'd better do something before the big wasps multiply!
This is really a fun movie and I wish the budget had allowed for more of the monsters. The colour tinting at the end was an especially nice surprise.
Now for all you detractors out there, we don't watch a movie called MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL expecting art; we watch it to have fun. That's what "B" movies are for and this one is lots of fun!
Before Jim Davis got his last and career part as Jock Ewing in Dallas, he had one tortured path to Hollywood success. He had a much publicized debut as Bette Davis's leading man in Winter Meeting which was one of her worst films. His portrayal of a war hero about to enter the priesthood met with a ton of critical guffaws. Still Davis persisted and took any kind of work. The Monster from Green Hell qualifies as any kind of work.
A wasp is sent up in space to see the effects. Unfortunately on re-entry the space capsule crashes in the region of West Africa and the wasp has grown to the size of a Panzer tank. To top it all off the geniuses sending up the rocket sent up a pregnant queen so we've got all kinds of those Panzer wasps running around Africa.
Jim Davis is sent to clean up the mess and runs into a medical missionary played by Vladimir Sokoloff. Albert Schweitzer was very much alive at the time and running his mission in West Africa. No one in 1958 mistook who Sokoloff was portraying. The wasps set up a colony in the shadow of a volcano. You can figure out the rest.
This is typical Fifties science fiction when all kinds of radiation was the explanation for these creatures. In this case it was the radiation from cosmic rays, presumably from the newly discovered Van Allen belt around the earth.
Tepid acting and chintzy special effects make The Monster from Green Hell great cult stuff. One thing though that is timely. An Arab character played by Eduardo Ciannelli joins forces with Davis and one of the natives Joel Fluellen to combat the danger the giant wasps present. Amazing how religious differences can suddenly melt away in time of crisis.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the late '50s & early '60s, we had "The Million Dollar Movie" on KHJ-channel 9. The MMM ran every night as well as twice on Saturdays and Sundays, giving the viewer nine opportunities over the course of the week to see whatever film was being shown.
When the MMM showed "The Monster From Green Hell," my cronies and I were seven or eight years old. We saw "The Monster From Green Hell" all nine times!!! Up to that point in our lives, it was perhaps the greatest thing ever put on celluloid.
Heck, giant wasps had over-run Africa and only Jim Davis, who starred as the hero ambulance driver in "Rescue 8" at the time could save mankind. Although I've read that the special effects were really cheap, I thought they might as well have come directly from George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. Those huge, giant wasps sure looked real to us! I recall Viewing #8, Sunday afternoon, for you. A buddy and I were at my house, getting ready to watch it in our Living Room when my dad came in, plopped down into his favorite comfy chair and told us he was going to watch something else, something other than ... "The Monster From Green Hell." How could this be? Sacriledge was being committed right before our young eyes! Fortunately, I knew my dad's Sunday afternoon habits, and Habit #1 was sawing logs within five minutes of landing in his afore-mentioned comfy chair. As luck would have it, sure enough, he was off in Dreamland within only a couple minutes.
Discovering this, my buddy and I scooted up as close to the TV as humanly possible and turned the sound down so we could barely hear it.
It was in this manner that we caught virtually all of "The Monster From Green Hell" for the eighth straight showing on "Million Dollar Movie." Well, almost all of it.
Within a minute or two of its conclusion, the mighty beast stirred. Uh oh, my dad had awakened. With a surge of sudden awesome, lightning-quick fury, he arose, hovering over us like Shaq over Billy Barty, and erupted, "THAT'S IT, DAMMIT, NO MORE GODDAMNED 'GREEN HELL!" With that we scooted out from under his grasp, out of the Living Room, out of the house and down the street, congratulating ourselves as if we'd just won the World Series. For we had done it! We pulled off the impossible, a mighty feat indeed! Risking life itself, we were able to see what we truly believed was one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, "The Monster From Green Hell," eight straight times.
That night, at my buddy's house, we capped our perfect week by seeing it for the ninth and final time.
I have never seen it listed on TV again - and yes, I would kill to see it after all these years.
* The sequence in which hundreds of African natives attack the safari before being turned back by fire is taken from Stanley and Livingstone (1939). Note that star Jim Davis is costumed very much like Spencer Tracy was in that film.