The Alligator People (1959)
B & W, 74 minutes running time
Directed by Roy del Ruth
Produced by Jack Leewood
Screenplay by Robert M. Fresco, Orville H. Hampton, and Charles O’Neal
Beverly Garland . . . . . . . . . Joyce Webster (Jane Marvin)
Bruce Bennett . . . . . . . . . Dr. Eric Lorimer
Lon Chaney, Jr . . . . . . . . . Manon
George Macready . . . . . . . . . Dr. Mark Sinclair
Frieda Inescort . . . . . . . . . Mrs. Lavinia Hawthorne
Richard Crane . . . . . . . . . Paul Webster
Ruby Goodwin . . . . . . . . . . Louann
Joyce Webster: What kind of house ... is this?
Louann : This ... is a trouble house ... deep ... dark ... trouble!
Mix together a handsome husband that vanishes for years, a worried wife, a not-so-mad scientist, one of those decaying Deep South mansions, alligators, hints of mysterious "work", and whaddya get? You get The Alligator People, one of those wonderful 50s cheapo horror movies. It’s the kind of B-movie that belongs on any movie buff’s "guilty pleasures" shelf.
Jane Marvin (Beverly Garland, you’ll remember her from more classic TV shows than I can mention here) is an efficient, pleasant nurse in the office of Dr. Eric Lorimer, a prominent psychiatrist. She’s got a secret, though, buried deep in her subconscious. Dr. Lorimer calls in a colleague to assist him, and, getting the big reel-to-reel tape recorder ready, they give Jane a shot of something to "relax" her. Under the drug’s influence, she slowly begins to tell her story.
It’s revealed her name is actually Joyce Webster, and she’s aboard a train with her husband Paul, honeymooning newlyweds. Among the pile of telegrams they receive from well-wishers, one causes her husband no small amount of concern. At the next station, he hops off to make a phone call. The train pulls away with Paul still at the station … and though Joyce waves frantically for him to get back aboard, that’s the last she sees of her husband.
After years of searching, she comes upon Paul’s old fraternity records at Louisiana State University, in which he gave his address only as “The Cypresses”, located in a small southern Louisiana town. With only this to go on, Joyce travels to the town’s small train station, where she’s met by (you guessed it) the Cypresses’s creepy handyman Manon (played by the great Lon Chaney, Jr.). Manon despises alligators, and scares the bejeezus out of Joyce by using his truck to run over one. The ‘gator, apparently unharmed by the truck, hisses at them and goes on about its way.
At the end of a long drive through the swamps, they arrive at The Cypresses. Joyce summons all her courage and knocks on the front door. She’s greeted by the maid, Louann … and the only other resident of the house, the formidable Mrs. Hawthorne. Reluctantly, they allow Joyce to come in and tell her story.
Of course, Mrs. Hawthorne denies everything and wants to get rid of Joyce, but there’s no return train until the morning, so Joyce must spend the night – and she’s warned not to leave her room during the night! Later that evening, when she hears strange piano music, Joyce forgets all about remaining in her room and ventures downstairs. She sees a strange man playing, but when she attempts to speak to him, he runs out the door into the storm, leaving slimy footprints behind. Joyce follows him, setting into motion the events that will soon Reveal All!
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hawthorne receives another guest – her old friend Dr. Mark Sinclair. Visibly upset, she tells Mark that Paul’s wife has found them and she’s demanding to know what happened to Paul. Mark agrees they’ll have to "do something" about her, before she finds out everything and jeopardizes The Work!
What, exactly, is "The Work"? Who is Mrs. Hawthorne, and does she know more about Paul’s whereabouts than she’s telling? Why can’t we see the mysterious piano-playing stranger’s face or, for that matter, the patients’ faces at Dr. Sinclair’s dubious clinic? What will Mrs. Hawthorne and Dr. Sinclair “do” about Jane?
All these questions, and more, can be answered by watching The Alligator People! The movie isn’t Great Cinema, but it is a damn fine B-movie. Shot in glorious black-and-white, it’s got just the right mood of menace and Grand Guignol that we’ve come to expect from these movies. I promise you’ll never think of alligators quite the same way again . . .
The Internet Movie Database
.<http://www.imdb.com>. (March 2006).
repeated viewing of the film