Now That’s What I Call Kino #18 – ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ (1958): America’s Fear of Second-Wave Feminism

Certain movie posters can stay ingrained on your mind whether or not you’ve seen the film in question. A shark lurking beneath the ocean’s surface of an unaware swimmer has been spoofed until its original poster has become a cliché. And so before movie posters were just a compilation of Photoshop faces to attract you with its list of celebrities, posters got creative and one of the best illustrators to do it was Reynold Brown.

Working primarily in the 50s and 60s, Brown is credited for posters such as Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ben-Hur (1959) and one of the most iconic artworks – Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). Brown’s image of a gigantic woman terrorising a highway has long lived in film history without much knowledge of the film itself. Despite it appearing as another low-budget sci-fi b-movie, there is no such scene of a woman terrorising a highway and very little 50 foot woman – only appearing for three minutes of runtime. Instead this depiction of a size-changing human is of a wealthy heiress called Nancy (Allison Hayes), who is left by her fleeing husband after she touches an alien spacecraft.

The iconic poster of a 50 foot woman terrorising a highway.
Image Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Nancy’s 50-foot woman terrorises the local town until she finds her unfaithful husband with his latest girlfriend. Wrapped entirely in bikini-line bed-linens, Nancy rips apart this suburbia to unveil her vengeful manner in seeking retributions. Nancy is an allegory for the Second Wave of Feminism that was now shaping its place into America. Following the Second World War and over a decade of ‘normalcy’ with prospects to the future and the perfect (yet nuclear) family – woman saw their places in this futuristic landscape as nothing but mothers and wives. This wave of feminism focused more on sexuality, family and reproductive rights. With the baby boom era coming to its end, alongside it was the family-oriented suburbs and companionate marriage that had been heavily idealised by the Western world.

The biggest reason that Attack of the 50 Foot Woman has bombed as a cult classic compared to other such sci-fi flicks like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is how it decides to side on the conservative view point. Other films of this era spoke truthfully about Cold War threats, sexual liberation and hypocrisy in the suburban viewpoint, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman instead tries to defend all these American aspects against the ‘terrifying’ giant that would later become the 1960s. Throughout the film, Nancy is belittled as emotionally unstable whilst her husband plans to steal her $50 million estate and live with his younger mistress. The final scene where Nancy seeks her revenge should be a direct critique on these male-dominated institutions but instead she is killed when a sheriff fires a power line transformer to blow up next to her.

Like the poster, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman could have been an empowering (albeit now outdated) feminist piece that looked to criticise the 50s American patriarchy. Rather than embracing the social changes of Second Wave Feminism, it feared them and thus is nothing more now than retro poster.

Header Image Courtesy of TCM.