The same year that my late mother’s favorite movie, Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, first appeared, Billy’s brother W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature, one installment of a prolific poverty-row career, also surfaced. (Myles Wilder, W. Lee’s son, wrote the script.) It is generally credited as the first yeti film, with The Abominable Snow Man (Val Guest, 1957) and Half Human (Ishirô Honda, Kenneth G. Crane, 1958), and countless others, following.
Why even mention such a film as this, one that is often described as “tacky” and “campy” and “ridiculous”? For a few reasons, actually. One is the germ of the idea that the previous decade—particularly, the Holocaust, Japanese atrocities, the Allied bombing of Dresden, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—impressed upon us afresh, that “human beings” are not fully “human,” certainly not humane. Also, the trajectory of the narrative sparkles with symbolical import: from the lofty Himalayan Mountains, where the “monster” is captured, to the sewers of Los Angeles, where it ends up after escaping its captors. Finally, the film—especially the final movement in the tubular tunnels below L.A. streets—is visually stunning in unmatchable high-contrast black and white.
Who is this cinematographer who dazzles our eye, helping Wilder to generate terror and suspense, as lanterns carried by those hunting down the monster starkly illuminate this tunnel and that while everything surrounding it remains pitch-dark? It is Floyd Crosby: the same Floyd Crosby who won a richly deserved Oscar for photographing F. W. Murnau’s Tabu (1931) before working his magic on Pare Lorentz’s The River (1937) and Joris Ivens’s Power and the Land (1940)—both, Leftist documentaries—and Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), also in black and white, with every trace of cloud filtered out of the ironically placid skies. By this time, Crosby’s political woes in reactionary America required his own investment in poverty-row cinema for his career to continue. One result of this is his gorgeous contribution to The Snow Creature, which, whatever its shortcomings, no one with even the slightest interest in brilliant cinematography can afford to miss.
Who knows? You just may find other things to like in the film as well. For instance, there is the ambiguous ending, where the birth of the lead cop’s son dovetails with the slaughter of the beast, subtly distressing the detective. Before it is dispatched, the creature, provoked, had the detective’s neck in its grip.
Imagine! As close as all that . . .
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