An Open Letter to the National Film Preservation Board

The National Film Preservation Board “works to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage, including: advising the Librarian on its recommendations for annual selections to the National Film Registry…The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.”

Well, at least according to their website.

For the average movie buff, it’s a list of movies that are deemed sufficiently important for aesthetic, historic, or cultural reasons. They started selecting movies in 1989, but over the years they have somehow managed to avoid selecting one particular film. So once I’m done writing this, I’m going to nominate this movie – and hope someone there actually reads my nomination, and acts favorably.

The Blob (1958)

You know the story. Meteor lands in a small town, it breaks open, releasing a bit of goo that, starting with a hapless hobo, eats everyone it comes in contact with. Led by a pair of teenagers, the townsfolk eventually figure out how to stop it (“It can’t stand cold!”) before it becomes too huge to stop.

So, why should this “B Movie” be recognized alongside such acknowledged classics as The Wizard of Oz and Die Hard?

1. It actually was a “B Movie” in the original sense of the word.

It was originally released as part of a double bill with I Married a Monster from Outer Space. That film was the “A” movie – the primary attraction. For decades, even the major studios would run such double features. They had “vertical monopolies”, controlling production, distribution, and even their own theaters. Doubling up on films was a reliable way to get their product out there. The lesser films would often be standard fare like westerns or light comedy featuring the same characters and cast. When the Studio System broke up in the late 40s / early 50s, these double-bills became a way for independent producers to package their films for distribution and release.

They may not meet the usual standards of excellence of the many other movies in the Registry, by the genre is an important part of film history.

2. It’s what we would call an “indie” film today.

Although distributed by Paramount, the film was made by people with little (at best) experience in filmmaking. Producer Jack H. Harris operated a film distribution company. Director Irvin S. Yearworth ran a small company that made religious and educational films. Neither had ever worked on a movie of this scale before. Most of the cast was drawn from local theater groups.

3. It encapsulated movie trends of the time.

The story was deliberately written to reflect on both the “juvenile delinquent” and “monster from outer space” films of the 50s. Even the climactic scene at the movie theater refers to the late night horror movie showings of the time (and even today).

4. Like many “B movies”, it served as vital career experience for people involved.

The most obvious instance is that it starred Steve McQueen in his first leading role on the big screen. He had a bunch of TV appearances prior to this, but nothing of real note. A lesser but equally important contribution was in the catchy title tune, which was composed by Burt Bacharach at such an early stage in his career that he didn’t get billing for it.

One can find many instances of Hollywood legends getting their starts in “lesser” movies like The Blob. Actors John Wayne and Jack Nicholson, for example, and Jonathan Demme and James Cameron on the other side of the camera, all got valuable experience working in these low budget offerings.

5. Aspects of the story are a little more complex than one might assume.

So you’ve got teens trying to convince the adults in the town that there’s a great danger in their midst. So of course, no one in charge believes the kids, and they must defeat the menace on their own.

The usual cliché, right?

Not in The Blob.

True, you’ve got teens trying to get the grown ups to wake up. But the teens aren’t delinquents. They’ve got the usual streak of rebelliousness, but still act with the general good in mind. Steve Andrews (McQueen) could have just dumped the hobo off at Dr. Hallen’s and forgotten about him, but he does go to check up on him when Dr. Hallen later asks him to. The police aren’t immediately and completely dismissive of their warnings, either. One officer does brush them off, but another listens with concern and some degree of seriousness. It’s just bad luck for our protagonists that Dr. Hallen was supposed to be leaving that night for a medical conference, so when he’s vanished from his office and home, there’s a logical explanation other than the Blob got him. And when the time comes to face the giant Blob, everyone in town from the school’s principal to Steve’s hooligan friends chips in.

6. Technical aspects are above average.

Let me point out two things here that might have escaped the casual viewer’s notice.

Note the Blob itself. Nothing more than a glob of silicone, but did you notice that it starts out clear and gets redder and redder as it consumes people?

And although the movie takes place over one night, every scene is properly lit – especially the outdoor ones. You never have to squint or guess at what is going on.

Not something you would expect from a low-budget indie flick…..

7. Legacy

The Blob spawned a sequel (Beware! The Blob in 1972) and a remake in 1988. Starting in 2000, Phoenixville PA (one of the places where the movie was filmed) has held an annual “Blobfest” in celebration of the town’s claim to fame. In 2001, The Blob was one of the nominees for the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years…100 Thrills”. Two years later, it was nominated for the “100 Years….100 Heroes and Villains” list. Rotten Tomatoes’ “Critic’s Consensus” says “In spite of its chortle-worthy premise and dated special effects, The Blob remains a prime example of how satisfying cheesy B-movie monster thrills can be.”

I firmly believe this film is the epitome of its genre and era, and is therefore more than worthy of inclusion in the National Film Registry.

Note: You can nominate it on their website, but it only lets you enter the name and year of the movie, and not give any reasons why you believe it’s worthy. So I’m going to have to print this out and mail it in.

National Film Registry
Library of Congress
Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation
19053 Mt. Pony Road
Culpeper, VA 22701

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