Beginning of the End

Year Of Release: 1957
Running Time: 73 Minutes
DVD Released By: Image Entertainment (Special Edition), Henstooth Video (Regular Edition)
Directed By: Bert I. Gordon
Writing Credits: Fred Freiberger, Lester Gorn
Filming Location: Chicago, Illinois

Starring: Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum, Than Wyenn, Thomas Browne Henry, Richard Benedict, James Seay, John Close, Frank Wilcox, Douglas Evans, Richard Emory, Hank Patterson

Taglines:
Filmed in New Horrorscope!
So Big...we had to coin a new word for it...NEWMENDOUS!
New Thrills! New Shocks! New Terror!
The screen's first full-length science-fiction thriller with real live creatures!

Alternate Titles:
Pelon Katu (Finland)

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
While over 200 grasshoppers were used in the making of this film, during production they began to cannibalize one another. By the end of production, only about a dozen were left. Actor Peter Graves, who plays Dr. Ed Wainwright in this film, had a very long and prolific career that covered many areas of entertainment. While he's very well known for his work in Mission Impossible and the two Airplane movies, his very first film role came at the age of 32, when he played an uncredited armament officer in a 1942 short called Winning Your Wings. Morris Ankrom, who played General John Hanson in this film, also had a considerable career. He appeared in a large number of westerns and western themed television shows, such as Bonanza, Maverick, The Rifleman, Rawhide, etc..., but he also appeared in some of the more notable classic b-movies of the time, including The Giant Claw, Kronos and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.

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*Note: The Special Edition release from Image Entertainment was used for this review. While it's still available through Amazon as of this writing, it's far more expensive than the non-special edition release from Henstooth Video. The covers of both are identical except for the lettering at the bottom.

 


 

Cast Of Characters
Dr. Ed Wainwright: In case you don't recognize him, it's Peter Graves. Yes, that Peter Graves. In this film, he plays Dr. Ed Wainwright, an entomologist working on a project at the US Department of Agriculture Illinois Experimental Station, along with his partner Frank, who's a botanist, to grow super huge fruits and vegetables using radioactive isotopes. Ed's job was to study the relationship and varying effects of various insects and the newly grown fruit. Unfortunately, they kept running into various infestations in their work, including locusts. The locusts ate the radioactive plants, grew to a massive size, and then...well, you can guess the rest. They pretty much tore up everything in their path, and Ed, Audrey and the military had to figure out a way to stop them.
Audrey Aimes: This is Audrey. Audrey is a reporter with the National Wire Service, but not one of those annoying "strong independent woman" reporters from the other movies who basically runs around full of self importance and trying to find every way possible to be a colossal pain in everyone's butt. No, she was totally different. She was actually a well respected professional and an honorable person who was well known for her photo journalism during the Korean War, and as such, was treated with respect by pretty much everyone. I wish I had something funny to say about her or Ed, but neither one of them was particularly amusing in any way, other than what I did in the screenshots with Ed, and even then I had to make up stuff.
Frank: Now this guy I felt sorry for. Not only did he become a deaf mute after getting caught up in a radiation accident, but he doesn't even get to be in the movie all that long. He's only really in it until they go out to investigate the grain storage barn that was destroyed by the giant locusts. After that, he wasn't in it at all, unless the camera happened to catch that particular locust taking a dump later that evening. Life just totally sucked for this guy, as did his death, so I figured the very least I could do was to give him a mention here. Right? I mean come on, not only did the writers screw this guy over by making him a deaf mute and killing him off right away, but they didn't even show him enough respect to give him a last name! Not cool man. Not cool.

Captain James Barton: This guy is a captain in the Illinois National Guard, and he's the first military guy they try to tell about the locusts. Naturally, he thinks they're full of hooey (yes, I just said hooey), but he hears them out with an open mind out of respect for Audrey and because Ed's a scientist. After hearing them out, he passes them off to Colonel Sturgeon, and things progress from there. Later on though, after taking Audrey on a photo tour of the destroyed town, he tries to ask Audrey out for a drink, but she totally blows him off. I can understand why too. Midgets could set up camp in that butt crack of a chin of his. It's a little unnerving. I guess it could be helpful though. He can drink from a straw without it slipping around, and his spaghetti wouldn't go flying all over when he eats. Always gotta look on the bright side, right?

Dave: Anyone who's ever seen Green Acres knows who this guy is. That's right, it's good ol' Fred Ziffel himself, Hank Patterson. He only had a bit part in this film as a local farmer who was being interviewed about what he had seen or heard the night the town of Ludlow was destroyed, and I don't really have anything else to say about him, but...dude, it's Fred Ziffel. I had to put him in here! Would have been hilarious if he had brought a pig with him to the interview. Like Frank, he doesn't have a last name either, but with him it really doesn't matter since most of us will be thinking of him as Fred Ziffel anyway.
Colonel Tom Sturgeon: This guy is another Colonel in the Illinois national guard. He's the one that was interviewing Dave, and he also thinks that Ed and Audrey are full of Hooey, but he and a squad go out to the destroyed grain barn to search around and find out if there's anything to this wild story about giant locusts. Naturally he finds out there is, but in his arrogance, he totally underestimates what he's up against and ends up under the false assumption that he can handle it himself with his just his local National Guard troops and hardware. Ed and Audrey go to Washington to enlist the help of the real military, and while they're there, the general they're meeting with gets a phone call that the guard troops have been overrun and that thousands are dead. That's pretty much the last we hear from ol' Tom.
General John Hanson: This guy took the lead on the full on military efforts to stop the locusts. He was tough, but very reasonable and did everything he could to help Ed find a solution. Other than that, there's not a whole lot to say about him, other than that he looks like he could use some fiber. Seriously, I can totally see this guy's wife in the morning trying to get him to drink his prune juice, but as soon as her back is turned, he pours it in the plant next to the window. He's got a bit of a plumber's crack going in his chin too, but no where near what Colonel Barton has goin' on. I don't wanna sound mean or nothin' but Barton seriously needs to put on a nice clean pair of chinderwear before he gets arrested for indecent exposure.

 


 

Screen Shots

Cop 1: "My god, what happened here?"

Cop 2: "Well Joe, it looks to me like a grasshopper, mutated by an as yet unlocated source of radiation until it was as big as a house, came along and stomped the ever living crap out of this car."

Cop 1: "Really???"

Cop 2: "Nah, I'm just messin' with ya. It was probably just some dizzy dame who zigged when she should have zagged. You know how they are."

Cop 1: "True dat. True dat."

Cop 2: "True dat? What's a dat? Why are you talking like that?"

Cop 1: "I dunno. Ask that idiot back there behind the keyboard. We'd better get out of here. If we hang around much longer, he's gonna have us telling fart jokes.

Cop 2: "Nah let's stick around. I like fart jokes. Here, tell me what this smells like..."

*...Unspellable fart sound that starts out sounding like a creaking old door and finishes up sounding like a balloon deflating underwater...*

Cop 1: "......Awwww, dude, it smells like my grandma!"

Cop 2: "But your grandma's dead."

Cop 1: "Exactly..."

Ed: "Hey what's this over here?"

*...Another unspellable fart sound, but this one's more like a whoosh with a few thip sounds at the end...*

Ed: *Giggle*

Frank: "......"

*Later that day...*

Ed: "Oh, thanks Frank. Just what I needed, a nice hot cup of coffee. Oh, dude, what the hell??? This coffee tastes like pee!"

Frank: *Giggle*

Wait a minute. Frank's a deaf mute. How the hell did he call shotgun?


Reviewer's Note: No fart joke on this one. Even if one of them did fart, it's not like anyone would get to enjoy it anyway since they're in a speeding convertible with the top down.

"Hey these automat buildings are great. All these little windows with food inside. Jeez, it's too bad I don't have any nickels. I'm starving!"

Ed: "Wait a second." *snif* *snif* "Do you smell that?"

Soldier: "Yeah, what is it? One of the monsters?"

Ed: "Nah, it's me. I had the crab cakes for lunch." *Giggle*

Soldier: "I do have a gun you know..."

Ed: "Right, let's keep moving then."

 


 

Best Quote

Soldier 1: "You know, grasshoppers are good eatin'."

Soldier 2: "Yeah? Mustard or ketchup?"

- Two solders talking while looking for the suspected giant locusts that destroyed the grain storage. - (Reviewer's Note: So are snails supposedly, but I wouldn't stick either one in my mouth. Blecch!)

 


 

Video Clip
When prompted, enter bmovie for the username and central for the password.

Beginning of the End
The National Guard goes out on a little bug hunt and meets some...resistance.

 


 

Summary and Conclusion

Oh science, what hast thou wrought now? Oh right, giant locusts, or for the more plain spoken folks among us, grasshoppers. You see, Dr. Ed Wainwright, an entomologist, and his partner in science, Frank, a botanist, are working on a study at the US Department of Agriculture Illinois Experimental Station to find ways of growing gigantic, edible fruits and vegetables using radioactive isotopes. Ed's job is to study the relationship and effects of various types of incects and such on the plants. Frank's job, obviously, was to deal with the plants themselves. Unfortunately for Frank however, there was an accident involving the radiation used at the lab, which had caused him to lose both his hearing and his ability to speak. Ed had no idea however that their research had caused anything untoward to happen. That is until a hot young reporter named Audrey came to visit him at his lab. She informed him that a nearby town called Ludlow had been utterly destroyed, and not a single sign was left of any of the people that had lived there. A local grain storage barn had also been destroyed, and all traces of the grain were gone. Audrey had already talked to the National Guard troops that were there, but now she was on the case, and following a hunch, went to the only research lab in the area that was using radiation.

Audrey convinced Ed to go out on an investigation of the destroyed grain storage, and Frank happily decided to tag along, which as it turns out, was a big mistake for him, as they found what they were looking for. One of the giant locusts kills Frank. It's then that Ed realizes what must have happened. The locusts had gotten into their research lab and eaten the radioactive plants. That caused them to grow to an enormous size, and the discovery and consumption of the grain in the storage barn, allowed them to grow even larger, until most of them were easily the size of a bus, or even larger. This discover leads Audrey and Ed on a quest to convince, first the National Guard, and then the full on United States military to take action to stop these giant creatures before they can wipe out Chicago, and then continue to spread until eventually, they wipe out all of mankind. How will they stop this gigantic insectoid menace? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

In the history of classic b-movies, there have been a huge number of films that have used creatures mutated by radiation as the main threat in the story. A number of these types of films involved generally unrecognizable monsters, while others kept it more realistic, using giant bugs rather than fantastically bizarre monsters. This was actually a brilliant move in many way, as it took advantage of the natural revulsion that mankind feels toward pretty much anything that has to do with bugs. Of these films, there were generally three types. The first type created their giant bugs using stop motion animation, as was the case with The Black Scorpion. The second type actually created large, physical bugs that moved around and could interact in a scene in realtime according to what the story had them doing, as was the case with Them!. The third type of these films, which included this one, used real life bugs and special effects to make them look enormous. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these types of films.

For the stop motion films, the biggest benefit is that you can place your creature in virtually any environment and have him interact with that environment in any way you see fit. The biggest drawback is, because the motion is slightly jerky, it takes away a lot of the realism of the creature.

For the films like Them! that use large, physical costume, models, etc..., the biggest benefit is that they could have far more natural interactions with the actors than either of the other two types. These are actually physically present in the scene, and as such, it really adds to the realism. The biggest drawback with these types of films however, is that these animatronic type creations, while they can move and interact, have a very limited range of movement that isn't natural looking at all.

This film however, chose to use real insects and special visual effects. The benefit to that is, they're totally real, and as such, kind of give you the creeps while your watching them scurry around the screen. The drawback however is that they can't interact with the cast, or anything else in the film in any kind of a realistic way. They're simply laid into the scene, placed on an image of a building to look like they're crawling up the side of it, etc.... There's also a kind of a strange look when things are blended into a film in this manner. They don't have the same contrasting as the scene they're placed into, nor do they look as sharp or focused as the rest of the scene.

So as you can see, each type of film has its trade-offs. This film actually did a really nice job with the grasshoppers and the way it incorporated them into the various scenes. Unfortunately, that feeling of tension you should be feeling when people's lives are at risk is somewhat lost because of the lack of genuine interaction with the cast and the environment. Still, it was fun to watch them running people down, climbing all over huge buildings, etc....

While this film had a great story to work with and a cast of highly talented actors to play it out, if it suffered from one single problem, I'd say that it actually had too many throwaway characters. Frank, Colonel Barton, Colonel Sturgeon, Dave, and many others that I didn't even mention, had small parts, and then disappeared completely. Now there's two ways you can look at that. You could say that the throwaway characters helped tell the story, while at the same time allowing you to focus on the main characters that had larger parts, or you could say that having so many disposable characters diluted the viewer's experience with the main characters. How one feels about this film will have to be decided individually. Personally, I found myself somewhere in the middle. I guess, looking back on it, many of these characters with the smaller roles added some much needed "color" to the film, and as such, added to the story in their own little ways. In any case, regardless of the size of the role, the cast was simply excellent. They were believable (as much as they could be in a 50's monster movie), and very enjoyable to watch on the screen.

The story in the film is actually presented in a pretty rational and logical way (for a 50's b-movie). Much of what goes on, including their solution to the infestation makes sense in the context of the film. The pacing is just perfect as well. The film never feels like it's rushing along to get to the next scene, nor does it ever feel like it's dragging to the point of having you reach for the fast forward button.

While reviewing these old films, the subject of the visual quality of the transfer often comes up. In the case of this special edition DVD I used from Image Entertainment for this review, I'd have to say the visual quality was quite good. While the contrasting could have been better, and there was plenty of grain in the film, you only really notice that if you take a screen shot. All the shots used in this review have been cleaned and adjusted for purposes of visual quality and clarity, and aren't representative of the quality that was presented on the disc. In general though, the transfer of the film does look quite good, and it's likely you won't notice either of these issues all that much while watching. It's not at the level of quality you see in some of these films that are restored in film labs and such, but for a film from 1957, I have to say it looks really damn good. The sound is great too, except for one thing. The locusts. The sound they used and the levels they inserted it at are not only obnoxious as all get out, but deafening as well. You may not be reaching for the fast forward button with this film, but when those locusts get going, you may find yourself reaching for the volume button.

This special edition disc from Image contains a new digital widescreen transfer at its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio, a still gallery and an audio commentary by Bert I. Gordon's daughter Susan. That's really not enough in the line of extras to call it a special edition, but hey, at least it's something. I don't own the Henstooth release, so I'm not sure what's included with it. Judging by the price of the Image release now though, I'd hazard a guess to say it may be out of print at this point. The Henstooth release is far more reasonably priced. They both have the exact same cover design, which leads me to believe that Henstooth is actually a subsidiary of Image, though I don't know that for sure.

In any case, if you're a fan of classic radioactive monster movies, this is one you'll definitely want to have in your collection, and as such, it's my great pleasure to give it the most excellent rating of...

B-Movie Central's Rating: 5 Bees!

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