Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fourth of July, 1972

Read about Fourth of July, 1963 here.
Read about Fourth of July, 1976 here.
Read about Fourth of July in classic animated specials and cartoons here.

It's July 4th, 1972, and Jason Crockett (Ray Milland, X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, Escape To Witch Mountain) is throwing his annual family celebration on his private island estate in the swamplands of Eden Gardens, Florida. But it's not just America's birthday, as Jason and several of his family members have birthdays in July as well. So this is a combined celebration!

There will be fireworks, games, water sports and cake.

But something is different this year. There are frogs everywhere. You can't take a step on Crockett's carefully manicured lawn without scattering a few. Of course, being located in a Florida swamp, that's not terribly unexpected. But there seems to be more than usual this year, and they are... hopping mad!

The movie is Frogs (1972, AIP). Despite sensational promises made on the one-sheet and trailer, these are not giant-sized frogs that can swallow an entire human being. They are just normal-sized, the biggest ones not much larger than a man's fist.

They aren't mutant frogs, either. There's a clear conservation theme running through the film (the tag line from the trailer is "Suppose nature gave a war...") right from the opening titles, in which Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, The Legacy), a photographer for an ecology magazine, is documenting the effects of pollution on the lake. Later we'll hear about environmental issues with Mr. Crockett's paper mill, and see him contaminating his own estate with the overzealous use of pesticides. But there's never any indication these chemicals have triggered scary genetic changes in the frogs.

The frogs don't bite. In the real world, some species of frog are known to bite humans when handled aggressively. But these frogs are picked up repeatedly, sometimes by children, and never curl a lip.

There are several deaths, but none caused by the frogs. One partygoer is mangled by an alligator while wading through swampland. Another surrenders to a dozen web-spraying tarantulas after injuring his leg. In one horrifying death scene (an outtake found only in the trailer and not the film itself) an elderly women sinks in quicksand.

Snapping turtles, snakes, centipedes, leeches, crabs, birds, and reptiles of every stripe and scale join the assault at some point. The only animal that doesn't directly cause a single death are... the frogs!

So what do these frogs do, exactly?

They teem.

That's right. Teem. Swarm. Swell. Amass.

They are not a physical threat, really. Their presence is, instead, a harbinger... a warning that if you are arrogant enough to build a palatial house in the middle of the wild, the wild is not going to respect your "no trespassing" sign. That the border of your estate is not going to be recognized, no matter how many adorable cherub statues are delineating it.

The frogs massing at your doorstep are a reminder that no matter how geographically isolated you are from the rest of the world, you can't pretend you are living on a 17th-century plantation, complete with black servants (Lance Taylor Sr., Blacula; and Mae Mercer, The Beguiled) in uniforms that wouldn't look out of place a hundred years ago.

This is 1972, and if the march of time doesn't make your once stately living room unlivable... the march of amphibians will.

Happy Fourth of July!

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