By 1957, producer/director Bert I. Gordon had already tackled giant monsters of all sorts with films like KING DINOSAUR and THE CYCLOPS. BEGINNING OF THE END was Mr. BIG's first nod to giant insects (in this case, giant grasshoppers), a subject he would unleash on us again in THE SPIDER (1958) and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977). The hero of the film is the perfectly cast Peter Graves in his fourth and final 50s sci-fi thriller (the others were RED PLANET MARS, KILLERS FROM SPACE and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD).
Respected female journalist Audrey Ames (Peggy Castle, BACK FROM THE DEAD) drives to Ludlow, Illinois with reports that some 150 residents are missing. She then visits Doctor Ed Wainright (Graves), a young scientist experimenting with vegetables in the hopes that a busty reporter will do a story on him. Visiting the sight of a recent disaster, the doc and the reporter are confronted with humongous noisy locusts, and a silly deaf/mute character is stampeded to death. Meanwhile, the military is brought in (reinforced with ample stock footage), trying to decide how to destroy the buggers without having to set off an atom bomb on Chicago.
This is basically Mr. BIG's imitation of the bigger-budgeted THEM, and the results are a respectable 73 minutes. Sure, using real grasshoppers against rear-projection effects or crawling on a photograph of a building is not terribly convincing, but it still has a certain nostalgic charm to it. Castle does a fine job as the heroine, and Morris Ankrum (who played a general, doctor or cop in nearly every 50s sci-fi flick) and Thomas Browne Henry (BLOOD OF DRACULA, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS) represent the military. And who doesn't like Peter Graves? He was even likable as the Nazi spy in STALAG 17! The memorable music is by none other than Albert Glasser.
Having already received a DVD release through Rhino's "Mystery Science Theater 3000" series, it was a big surprise when Image Entertainment announced this title. But Image's version puts the previous one to shame and makes it obsolete, going back to the original camera negative for the transfer. BEGINNING TO THE END now looks crisp and clean, and the black and white image has intense detail. It's also Anamorphic and wonderfully letterboxed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, thankfully covering previous open matte shots of the insects climbing off the peaks of photographed buildings. The audio is also excellent.
Also included is a full running commentary, moderated by producer/director Bruce Kimmel (THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL) that features Bert's ex-wife Flora (who assisted in the special effects) and daughter Susan (who appeared in some of his films, but not this one). The commentary is an OK listen, and although Kimmel is enthusiastic enough, there is a lack of research in the proceedings (Peggy Castle is discussed as if she's still living but she passed away 30 years ago). Not too much is learned from the two ladies (other then the "I" in Gordon's name stands for "Ira" and that only male grasshoppers were used in the film), but they still have a few nice anecdotes to tell. But one has to wonder why the alive and well Bert I. Gordon can't be coaxed into doing one of these things!
There is no trailer, but a still gallery of the original U.S. lobby card set is included. (George R. Reis)
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