Jack Arnold – Pioneer of Classic Sci-Fi – By Philip Smolen

Jack Arnold was one of classic sci-fi’s first superstar directors. While the genre currently has many wunderkinds (Cameron, Lucas, Spielberg, Nolan, Jackson), back in the 1950s there were very few directors who wanted to direct sci-fi movies and even fewer who liked directing them. But Arnold thrived within a very rigid studio system and left an indelible mark on the minds of both fans and future directors alike.

Over the course of five years (1953-1958) Arnold directed three classic sci-fi films and also directed some second unit work for another classic all for Universal International. What separated Arnold from other directors of 1950s sci-fi was that he really enjoyed the genre. Arnold admitted that as a youth he collected pulp magazines and was a fan of sci-fi. So when directing at Universal, the studio left him alone since none of the executives there understood the genre as well as him.

Paired with producer William Alland (who also enjoyed sci-fi), Arnold directed the classics “It Came from Outer Space” (1953), “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), and “The incredible Shrinking Man” (1957) (“Shrinking Man” was produced by Albert Zugsmith) as well as several other sci-fi movies. He also directed some second unit pick up shots on “This Island Earth” (1955). From the use of the eerie desert setting as a character in “It Came from Outer Space” to the wonderful underwater ballet between the unsuspecting Julie Adams and the monstrous Gillman in “Creature,” Arnold bought a keen eye and steady hand to his fantastic projects. He always established a mood for each of his films and carried this mood through to the closing credits.

Arnold left Universal in 1958 and directed only three more sci-fi films – the underrated “The Space Children” (1958), the witty and satiric spoof “The Mouse that Roared” (1959), where a small backward country declares war on the US in order to surrender and collect massive amounts of government aid and the lugubrious “Hello Down There” (1969). He turned his attention to TV for most of the 1960s and directed episodes of many classic TV shows including “Rawhide”, “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch”. And in the 1980s filmmaker John Landis attempted to launch a new production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” with Arnold as the director. The project collapsed and Arnold died in 1992 without helming another film.

But for classic sci-fi fans, he will always be remembered for his wonderful movies from the fabulous 1950s.

The Classic Sci-fi Films of Jack Arnold

1. It Came From Outer Space (Universal, 1953) – director
2. Creature From the Black Lagoon (Universal, 1954) – director
3. Tarantula (Universal, 1955) – director
4. Revenge of the Creature (Universal, 1955) – director
5. This Island Earth (Universal, 1955) – second unit shots
6. The Incredible Shrinking Man (Universal, 1957) – director
7. Monster on the Campus (Universal, 1958) – director
8. The Space Children (Paramount, 1958) – director
9. The Mouse that Roared (Columbia, 1959) – director
10. Hello Down There (Paramount, 1969) – co-director

Reference

Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (The 21st Century Edition). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. 2010.