From astronomical to primordial, or maybe there's no difference for Jack Arnold, whose Amazon creatures are no less otherworldly than the astro-visitors from It Came From Outer Space. "In the beginning..." leads a Genesis flipbook, then the camera swooping over the trees and across scientist Antonio Moreno's jungle expedition, ending on a fossilized aqua-claw in close-up. A discovery "dating back to the Devonian age" might be within reach, and Richard Carlson, Arnold's Everyman of scientific curiosity, gets summoned up to join the crew, along with gal pal Julie Adams and Richard Denning, who's got a bit of the big-game hunter in him. "And I thought the Mississippi was something," Adams says as they sail the Amazon, but this is deep in the 1950s, so the unknown is laced with dread, a point-of-view marching toward a tent (to complement the early shot of the heroine gazing at tiger sharks taken from inside the fish tank) to claim the first victims. What's in that black lagoon? As it turns out, an amphibious missing-link, web-limbed and scaly and oddly human -- triple-chinned, rope-lipped, gills on the side of a rubbery pate to suggest a middle-aged horseshoe dome. Adams, decked in white one-piece suit, dives in, and her Esther Williamsisms pique the frog-man's interest; ankles are fondled, but, although the arc is King Kong's, with a dash of Hawks' The Thing, there's no time for interspecies romance. The lyricism instead is left to the underwater sequences, with their penchant for aquatic abstraction and outright surrealism -- packages sinking to the bottom of the lake, leaving thick white trails behind, or Denning, mauled for his ambitions, bellying up to the surface, the camera low to catch the poetic ascension. Through all is the gillman, sinuously swimming beneath the rocks and gasping for air on dry land, harpooned but still taking his beloved to his fantasy grotto-lair before landing with a heart full of lead. The "black lagoon," Carlson says, answered by Adams with the "beautiful lagoon" -- a thin line, indeed, Arnold caps. With Nestor Paiva, and Whit Bissell. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce