Movie of the Week: Village of the Giants (1965)

Written by Alan Calliou (screen story by Bert I. Gordon)
Based on the novel The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Starring Tommy Kirk, Beau Bridges, Toni Basil, Ron Howard
Released October 20, 1965
RT 81 min.
Home Video MGM (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)

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Generally, I don’t subscribe to the idea that movies can be so bad that they’re good. If I like a bad movie, it’s not because it’s bad, if that makes any sense. However, after watching Village of the Giants on Svengoolie this weekend, I may have to reconsider my stance. The moment that two giant ducks appear on the dance floor at a nightclub and one of the patrons simply says, “Wow, look at those ducks,” the very foundation of my approach to film criticism was rocked to its core.

This was also the moment I realized that Village of the Giants must be considered strictly a comedy; in fact, one that reminds me an awful lot of a poor man’s late 1960’s-early 1970’s Disney comedy. This isn’t just because it stars Tommy Kirk as “good” teenager, Mike, but also because the nature of the young “Genius” (as he’s named in the credits), played by Ron “Ronny” Howard, and his experiments, is straight out of something like Son of Flubber… as I remember it.

Genius works tirelessly in his “lab” to first create more of the pink stuff that causes living creatures to grow (as his now-giant dog watches), and then to create an antidote when it falls into the wrong hands. Repeated failures result in such rich dialogue as, “Interesting, but not quite what we wanted” and “Well, back to the old drawing board.” With perseverance, he’s sure he’ll succeed, but I’d suggest spending less time leaning on the fence giggling when the good teens fight the bad teens.

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Mike has good intentions for the “goo,” as it’s called. He asks, “With the price of beef today, can you imagine feeding it to cows?” When the bad teens catch wind of it (or dance with the giant ducks at the nightclub, I guess), they want to exploit it to make a buck themselves. However, when they finally get their hands on it, it suddenly seems like a good idea to cut it into eight pieces and ingest it themselves. Hainesville becomes a… village of the giants.

Led by rebel Fred (Beau Bridges… yes, Beau Bridges), the bad teens don’t want to wreak terror on the town. They simply want to put in their place the adults that have neglected or scolded them. Their biggest demand is that the adults have a 9:00 curfew. With this angle, as well as the “mod” dancing and musical performances, Village of the Giants seems to have been made for a specific audience. I question its authenticity, though. If made for mid-60s teens, it still had to be made as a spoof.

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Until Food of the Gods eleven years later, this is the last of the Bert I. Gordon (Mr. B.I.G.) “giant” films for which he is famous. Village of the Giants claims to be based on the H.G. Wells story. (Although I’ve never read it, it must be loosely based on it… very loosely.) It has more the tone of The Boy & the Pirates (1960) or The Magic Sword (1962) than The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) or The Spider (1958). They all share, though, the special effects of the guerilla filmmaker.

Gordon surpasses himself here, though, constructing a pair of giant legs for Bridges so that the good teens in their dragsters and on their motorcycles can drive around him and rope him just like Luke Skywalker does with an AT-AT in The Empire Strikes Back. They legs are skinny and don’t move, even as the alternate shot depicts Bridges dancing around at the center of the mayhem. I’ll be darned, though, if they don’t work just perfectly in the context of everything else that happens.

I enjoyed Village of the Giants. I mean, I really and truly enjoyed it, un-ironically. (Why do we have to say that these days?) The key to appreciating it is that you can’t for one moment take it seriously. However, at its core, I daresay it has a message, if not about the actual state, but about the perceived state, of relations between adults and teenagers in the 60’s. It reflects something of its era. In that light, I retract my original claim. Village of the Giants, in fact, is not a bad movie… not bad at all.

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