With the rising popularity of Japanese kaiju films among American audiences, it was inevitable that an American studio would throw a lot of money into the ring and make a truly appalling movie that overlooked the joy of watching guys in rubber suits pound on each other in a miniature city. But that would have to wait until Godzilla (1998). Long before that, two high school dropouts in Illinois made Big Monster Ruckus with more gusto than cash and made an enjoyable mess of a movie.

John Henry Fielding was the son of Isaac Fielding, whose Fields of Screens company produced training films for Chicago’s meat packing industry. After interning at his father’s company over summer vacation, John dropped out of school to work full time. He fell in with the firm’s young lighting technician, Paul Whitestone, and they began using the Fields of Screens equipment and film remnants on weekends to make Big Monster Ruckus. According to the testimony in Whitestone v. Fielding, the movie cost about $4,000 to make — the majority of which went to pizza and train sets.

There is no credit listed for the screenwriter (although both men claimed in court to have written the majority of the script), and there is in fact little credit to give. What dialog exists is purely clumsy exposition, most often in the form of narration. In fact the soundscape is barren. Aside from voices, there is only the stock music played through the opening credits. Even when the promised ruckus begins there is no sound whatsoever. That’s not entirely true, I have to confess. There’s also the occasional pop of the degraded soundtrack.

The film is in remarkably good condition. It shows very little wear, which may mean that it was the copy given to Isaac Fielding in return for the use of equipment. Testimony indicated that only three prints of the film were made, and two were periodically taken to amenable drive-ins for screenings. According to Whitestone, one town made it part of a yearly festival and held costumed wrestling contests.

The story is as follows: some scientists are exploring the island of Nipponia (…yeah…) which seems to be the shoreline of Lake Michigan. We’re told that they are there to follow up on “readings”. As they wander around, we are treated to some forced perspective shots of a guy in an ape suit. When the scientists leave, the “ape” stumbles after them. So much for plot. After that, it’s all ruckus as first the ape rampages over model houses for train sets then is joined inexplicably by a man in robes and a fright mask. After some individual tromping on plastic buildings, they start to wrestle. Shots of stomping in trainyards are interspersed with close shots of an extended slappy-fest. Eventually the guy in the robes runs away, and the ape does a victory lap that ends with punting a moving train.

It’s kind of awesome in its childish directness, although the lack of noises makes it feel as though it’s longer than the 56 minute running time.

In case you’re curious, Whitestone lost his suit against Fielding. The judge ruled that as the only agreement about profits was a verbal arrangement that each man had a copy to do with as he pleased there was no basis for assuming that Fielding should split the take from any given showing. I can only assume that this leaves a sequel in serious doubt.

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