Review: ‘Giant from the Unknown’ gets a home video makeover

Enter good-looking geologist Wayne Brooks (played by Ed Kemmer), an immediate suspect because of a recent run-in with the dead rancher. Driving into town is archaeologist Dr. Cleveland (Morris Ankrum, a familiar face to B-movie watchers) and his daughter Janet (Sally Fraser). Conveniently, Wayne attended the professor’s lectures and the trio catches up over dinner.

“I’m looking for a giant – one that’s been dead for over 500 years,” Dr. Cleveland tells Wayne. (Anyone watching is perking up at that moment.)

The professor is writing the definitive history of a cruel Spanish Conquistador named Vargas who left an expedition in search of Indian gold. To complete his history, he needs to know the fate of the Diablo (devil) Giant and his band of renegades.

The giant (Buddy Baer) carries off the professor’s daughter, Janet (Sally Fraser), in “Giant From the Unknown.”

This dinner scene is inventively used as an explainer segment, with Wayne asking the questions we have.

“Why do they refer to this Vargas as a giant?” Wayne asks. “He was a man of extraordinary size,” he’s told

“But why the nickname Diablo devil giant?” Answer: “From his name, I’m sure that he was a brutal, degenerate and depraved man.”

OK, the answers are lame but you get the idea.

Back at Wayne’s lab/office, he shows the professor a small lizard that was sealed alive inside a rock in state of suspended animation. (Remember the lightning.)

Geologist Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer) knows he’s on to something when he finds this buried helmet.

The professor finds more clues in Wayne’s office and they’re off on an expedition to the Indian burial grounds in the nearby mountainous area called Devil’s Crag (cue the scary music). Wayne, the professor and his daughter camp out in the mountains looking for clues to Vargas and his treasures. It’s a very mellow affair and takes a while, but bones, artifacts and Spanish armor are discovered. The trio is very happy except that there’s no trace of the Diablo Giant.

“If this is his grave, where are his bones?”

The giant’s hand rises from beneath leaves in a creepy scene from “Giant From the Unknown.”

Be careful what you wish for, especially with more lightning on the way. When the hulking Diablo Giant finally appears, it is an appropriately large and creepy presence as he rises from the leaves after a lightning storm.

From there, it’s simply a chase after the giant while Wayne hopes to clear his name with the sheriff and townsfolk. It’s not particularly terrifying, but it does get tense at times and we ultimately get the showdown we are waiting to see.

Despite budget limitations, the filmmakers lucked out with the talents of the great Jack Pierce who created the iconic makeup for Universal films including “Frankenstein.” In the disc’s bonus features, we hear how Pierce created the look of the giant on 6’6” actor and prize fighter Buddy Baer (uncle of actor Max Baer Jr. of “The Beverly Hillbillies”) after just a couple of hours in the makeup chair on the first day of filming.

The work of makeup artist Jack Pierce was so important to the film that he was named in the opening credits.

The story and screenplay are from actor Richard Brooke and Frank Hart Taussig who originally called their story “The Diablo Giant.” Brooke was known for his sense of humor including wanting a character named Charlie Brown in the script. He got his wish and earned the nickname Charlie Brown on the set. In the movie, the character of Charlie Brown is an earnest teen who peppers his sentences with the word “jeepers” (as in “Jeepers Mr. Brooks, what is it?”), adding a lighter touch reminiscent of Mayberry at times.

What’s on the DVD?

The Film Detective is doing a great job with its recent slate of classic film releases including “The Sin of Nora Moran.” “Giant” looks crisp – so much better than versions you can watch online or on streaming services. It is available on DVD, Blu-ray and in limited-edition collector’s sets. All versions come with bonus features and there is a handy collector’s booklet with liner notes by author and film historian Tom Weaver.

There are two commentaries: one by Weaver and his friends, another is with actor Gary Crutcher. Weaver is a knowledgeable guy, but his commentaries tend to be a stream of consciousness as opposed to being about what you’re seeing on screen.  However, he graciously shares interviews he has done through the years and in the case of this release, we hear snippets of interviews with Cuhna and Jacobs which is very cool.

“You’re a B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown” is a 14-minute interview with Gary Crutcher who plays Charlie Brown in the film. This was his first film and he only got the role because he looked like actress Jolene Brand, who played his sister in the film. He shares interesting anecdotes such as why some scenes had to be reshot and what happened in his first scene in which he had to drive a car. To get the role, the teen said he could drive but he couldn’t. In one take, he hit the brakes so hard, his co-star Jolene Brand fell out of her seat.

In “The Man with the Badge: Bob Steele in the 1950s,” author and film historian C. Courtney Joyner pays homage to Bob Steele whose career goes back to silent era when he starred with his twin brother Bill in a series of silent two-reelers called “The Adventures of Bill and Bob” directed by their dad, Robert North Bradbury. Steele  carved an early career out of westerns, especially B-westerns but also had roles in such films as “Of Mice and Men,” “The Big Sleep” and “McLintock!” He was a large presence in TV westerns of the 1950s when there was a need for actors. As Joyner explains it, Steele “was not going to stop working.” When he finished one job, he would jump in the car and head off to work on a TV show like “Gunsmoke.”

To buy: The DVD and Blu-ray can be purchased through The Film Detective as well as Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Review: ‘Giant from the Unknown’ gets a home video makeover”

  1. I hope to someday see the same treatment given to a favorite of mine, ‘The Monster of Piedras Blancas’.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Alistair, and for mentioning “The Monster of Piedras Blancas.” I watched that film last fall and enjoyed it. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting and I find that’s always good. Toni

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