Movie Review: The Alligator People (1959)

Synopsis: While traveling by train with his new bride, Jane, Paul Webster receives a telegram and, without explanation, gets off the train at the next stop and disappears. Jane begins a search for her husband and eventually finds a clue that leads her to a plantation in the Louisiana bayou. When she resists the owner's efforts to get her to leave, she eventually learns Paul was part of a medical experiment that healed his injuries from a plane crash but also has him slowly turning into a reptile.

Who's in it? The movie stars Beverly Garland, George Macready, Frieda Inescort, Richard Crane and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Review: I came across this movie a few days ago and, while I had some doubts about it, wound up adding it to my library. I decided to watch it before heading into the office this morning and the film ended up exceeding my expectations.

I think the thing I liked most about this film was the mystery surrounding Paul (Crane) and his disappearance. Based on the movie's title, I had a rough idea of what happened to him, but the movie does a good job keeping the full story a secret until toward the very end.

I also enjoyed the fact the film wasn't as predictable as I thought it would be. Even when Jane (Garland) finds out the truth about him and learns of the attempt to save him, it wasn't clear just what would happen next, especially since this is the type of movie that could either have a happy ending or have a finale that ends on a tragic note.

Another thing I liked about this film was the explanation about why Paul was going through the changes. I've seen way too many films like this where a scientist attempts an experiment with no real reason for doing so. In this particular case, the science was sound (at least by movie standards). The plot, while still a bit farfetched, didn't feel as forced as I would expect from a movie in this genre.

One other thing that stood out for me when it came to this movie was Chaney's performance as the handyman, Manon. I don't think anyone could have played that character better, giving Manon just enough of a "creep" factor to make it hard to tell if he was someone Jane should be afraid of or someone who was actually on her side, at least until he made it clear which it was later in the film. In fact, in a movie featuring people turning into alligators, I think he might have been the scariest thing about the film.

Final Opinion: The makeup and special effects are a bit cheesy by today's standards, but I thought the film had a halfway decent plot and a great performance from Chaney. At minimum, it's a fun movie and worth taking the time to watch at least once.

My Grade: B

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