The Alligator People. Wendy and I watched it last night. Yes, it’s a ridiculous title, but it’s a good film, a well done film. They’re playing it straight. And with superb direction by Roy Del Ruth (The Maltese Falcon, Ziegfield Follies), it shows.
Seems I’ve seen it before, or at least something like it. One of those people-turning-into-animal films. And, spoiler alert here. Yes, our hero/victim/monster turns into a sort of alligator near the end of the film. Betcha couldn’t see that one coming, could you? But that’s not the important thing. As with many of these films, the monster isn’t the real monster. Fact is, he doesn’t kill anyone. He avoids people best he can in the swamps of Georgia. At least I remember them saying it was Georgia in the movie, although one of the filming locations was Louisiana.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. It’s a backstory movie, beginning with Beverly Garland’s character, Joyce Webster, undergoing hypnosis and relating an impossible tale to her employer, a doctor. She’s a nurse at his clinic, and the doctor and another doctor are debating on whether to reveal to her everything she’s told them while hypnotized. She’s blanked everything out, can’t remember a thing, but otherwise seems perfectly adjusted. Right now, I don’t remember why she was hypnotized in the first place.
As one of the minor sub-plots, this does bring up a good question. If someone has no dysfunction, and their doctor discovers something horrific in their past they can’t (or don’t want to) remember, should the doctor tell the patient?
So, on to Joyce’s story. She’s just married Paul Webster, and they’re on a train, heading to their honeymoon destination. They’re happy, in love, and suddenly Paul receives a telegram that upsets him. At the next stop, he gets off the train to make a phone call. Of course, misses boarding the train, and Joyce travels on down the line minus her husband. The only thing she knows about his past is that his home in Georgia (Louisiana) was something called The Cypresses. Oh, she also knows he had been a pilot (can’t remember if he had been in the service, but I’m guessing so—movie was released in 1959), his plane cracked up, and he had been more alive than dead, and miraculously restored to perfect health. Hmm… starting to see a good scientific-breakthrough type of cure here.
One plot hole here. How come Joyce knows so little about her husband? Ah, but we’ll let that slide.
So, Joyce is on the trail of her absentee husband, finally finding The Cypresses Plantation, and makes a trip there. Not like these days of the Internet, where she can just Google Map it.
At the train station, kind of a desolate place, she gets her first sampling of bayou wildness when she meets Manon (Lon Chaney Jr.), handyman at the Cypresses. Lon gives a wonderfully gritty and wild performance as the drunken caretaker. He comes complete (incomplete?) with a hook in place of his right hand. Bayou, alligator country, hook-for-a-hand… I’ll just leave that right there for now.
Anyway, I need to work on some editing right now, so I’ll return to bayou country later.
Keep writing, friends.