A mild mannered hospital nurse, Jane Marvin (Beverly Garland) has been going by a different name to conceal her true identity. When her bosses, Dr Eric Lorimer (Bruce Bennett) and Dr. Wayne Macgregor (Douglas Kennedy) place her under sedation and inject her with sodium pentathol she recounts her life before going incognito. Her story is told through a flashback and we learn Jane (real name Joyce) was once married to a Dr. Paul Webster (Richard Crane) a scientist. One day while the two were traveling by train, Paul received an urgent telegram that troubled him and he immediately disembarked and dissapeared. She later returned to their apartment, and tried to find out where he was really from since he never told her.
After finding a clue in the form of a pledge pin, Joyce discovered Paul attended Louisiana State University. His school records lead her to Bayou Landing, the small town that he grew up in. Upon arriving at the depot, she’s met by a burly man with a hooked hand called Mannon (Lon Chaney Jr) who looks like a pirate. Joyce inquires about a place called The Cypresses, which is where Mannon came from, as he was at the depot to pick up a large crate. He then politely offers to give her a ride there. While driving down the dirt roads, Joyce sees some men wrestling an alligator in the swamp. This sight seems to set Mannon in a very foul mood as he angrily rants about the “nasty gators!”. He clearly has contempt for these creatures since they were the ones that took his hand off. When Joyce gets to The Cypresses she tells the woman who owns the place Mrs. Lavinia Hawthorne (Frieda Inescort) about Paul and her search for him. After listening to this story, Mrs Hawthorne tries to get Joyce to leave right off but decides to lets her stay the night, then warns her to not leave her room until morning. That night Joyce overhears Mannon outside as he shoots his gun at the ‘gators yelling about how he plans to spend his life “killing them since they bit his hand off!”.
Joyce tries to get more information on why people are being so secretive from the maid but is once again urged to leave because the “house is troubled”. Lavinia informs a scientist, Dr. Mark Sinclair (George Macready) that Joyce is looking for Paul and that they need to talk. This is where we find out that Sinclair is secretly performing experiments on humans. We don’t know what kind as the subjects are covered in bandages. In the middle of the night, Joyce overhears piano playing downstairs and investigates. She finds a strange man in the dark who abruptly flees out the back door. The next day Dr Sinclair introduces himself to Joyce explaining that he’s a “swamp doctor” and passes himself off as a normal eco-scientist. She then questions Sinclair about Paul but he assures her he has no knowledge of him. Meanwhile in his laboratory, the doctor has been building a new x-ray generator to aid him with his project.
When Joyce encounters the man from the night before once again she can see it’s Paul but his features and voice have been horribly changed. She runs after him into the swamp where it’s raining and almost gets attacked by a snake but is luckily saved by Mannon (another snake) who takes her back to his shack and offers her some booze. She’s soaked so Mannon tries to get her clothes off but she refuses. He then wraps her in a blanket and tries to rape her but she screams so he knocks her out. Suddenly Paul appears and fights with Mannon to protect his estranged lady love. Paul defeats the lumbering lunatic and takes Joyce back to The Cypresses in hopes she’ll be able to understand his predicament.
Although it seems his agenda is twisted, Sinclair’s chief aim is to help humans by adapting their bodily functions to those of creatures whose makeup are governed by chemicals rather than the normal nervous systems. His plan is to use the hydrocortizone found in amphibians (like alligators) to heal people. He’s already created serums extracted from them to help injury victims recuperate. Paul was one of these patients since he was terribly burned during his time serving in the War. With Sinclair’s help he was able to completely heal but later found out the side effects were his body taking on characteristics of the Alligator. Sinclair’s only hope to help Paul and those like him return to normal is his x-ray machine which could reverse this state through gamma radiation.
The Alligator People was made primarily because 20th Century Fox needed a low budget sci fi film in Cinemascope to put on a double bill with Return of The Fly starring Vincent Price. It was actually made independently by Producer Jack Leewood then Fox bought the rights. One thing that will dissapoint viewers right away is the fact The Alligator People is actually a false claim. There really is no “people” of the title, it’s more like one guy. I mean imagine if there was a whole group of Alligator humans running around? That would’ve made the movie a bit more exciting. The reptilian makeup we do see was done by the legendary artist Dick Smith and is a great visual. In addition, the character of Paul Webster will remind people who love comic books of The Lizard, a supervillain featured in Spider Man. The storyline with Paul closely resembles the one in that comic, but combines the Paul and Dr. Sinclair characters into one person, Dr. Curt Connors.
Our man of the moment Lon Chaney Jr. certainly wasn’t playing The Wolf Man or another supernatural “monster” in this movie but he clearly was a kind of human fiend and it’s one of his most disturbing performances as he seems genuinely deranged and angry. This role, while small is one of my favorites of his long career as it’s almost like the flipside of his famous character Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men. Instead of the retarded misunderstood guy with a heart of gold he’s a sadistic nutcase with no conscience. Chaney really went to a darker place as Mannon and is a main highlight of the film, albeit in a minor part, which is why I chose it to review for The Chaney Blogathon.
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