As a great actor, albeit one who frequently descended into hamminess, Burton was a controversial choice. No one, however, would doubt for one minute that John Agar is the most worthy recipient of the "honor." His performance in Revenge of the Creature alone should convince even the most skeptical that Mr. Agar has no rival in this contest.
Writing about a rotten Richard Burton performance is easy. The late Welshman's style is often described as "bravura." Liz Taylor's favorite hubby (she married him twice) was not shy about showing emotion. A John Agar performance is more elusive. The man doesn't really do anything. Agar shows all the emotion of a department store mannequin and has less personality. He reads his dialogue as though he forgot he was in a movie and was suddenly reminded, perhaps by the sight of one of the many monsters with which he so often co-starred. "Let's see," Agar seems to be thinking. "Do Gill Men exist in real life? Nah. This must be one of those movies. Now, what is my dialogue?"
Actually, Revenge of the Creature is the perfect movie for Agar's non-talents. A sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, it's a pasty-faced shadow of its excellent predecessor even though Jack Arnold who directed the original, as well as the classic Incredible Shrinking Man, is at the helm once again. In a bad movie like this one, Agar's monotone line readings and complete lack of anything resembling charisma or presence don't ruin anything. Besides, with foxy Lori Nelson on hand as the damsel in distress, who'll notice Agar?
The most interesting scene in Revenge of the Creature has nothing to do with a monster or any unconvincing dramatics from Agar. In the scene, a pair of teenagers are driving along when one of them says, "My father told me that these days a Bachelors degree from college is what a high-school diploma was when he was young." I've heard that in the 90's, and I believed it, too, although hearing it in a 1955 monster movie makes me wonder if it's not one of those "I walked twenty miles to school in the snow" stories. Those teenagers don't have to worry about high-school diplomas or Bachelor degrees, though, since the Gill-Man gets them only minutes after their conversation.
Now, more than four decades after its release, Revenge of the Creature is best known, not for dialogue that may cast doubt on things your father tells you, but as the film that introduced Clint Eastwood to movie audiences. In his brief amusing scene as a lab assistant who misplaces a mouse, Eastwood has the presence that Agar lacks, but his acting is just as wooden. There is no indication that, in another twelve years, the tall, soft-spoken actor would be on his way to becoming one of the great icons of the cinema, not to mention an Oscar winning director. Eastwood's name cannot be found in the credits, but it's doubtful anyone would remember Revenge of the Creature at all today if not for his appearance.
© 1995 Brian W. Fairbanks