During the opening 4 minutes of Frogs (1972), photo-journalist Pickett Smith (played by a nearly unrecognizable Sam Elliott) paddles about in a canoe and takes photos of a yellow ratsnake, a Tegu lizard, an alligator, a marine toad, a cottonmouth moccasin and a Tokay gecko. I find it interesting that Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson presented us with an obvious exploitation film about native species rebelling against polluting humans, when, 1) the species aren’t entirely native and, 2) the real ecological problem today in the Everglades isn’t pollution, but invasive species. Frogs was ahead of the curve in recognizing environmental disaster in the Everglades.
The Tegu lizard, Tokay gecko and Bufo marinus (the giant marine toad) are all exotic species released to south Florida largely through the pet trade. It is now estimated that 26% of all fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals in the Everglades are not native. Some believe the recent surge in monster pythons is due to zoological garden escapes rendered during 1995’s Hurricane Andrew.
I’m fairly certain Frogs, which BTW features toads, wasn’t meant to be a message film about invasive species. The animal wranglers who worked on this film decided on easy-to-handle animals that looked interesting and were relatively safe. That’s why we see Boa constrictors as venomous snakes in crappy films like the TVM Fer-de-Lance (1974)(ok, I liked this film about snakes on a submarine). However, Frogs also uses venomous snakes such as the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake and the Florida cottonmouth. This adds authenticity to the film, and as an observant 9-year old I damn well knew the difference between a harmless ratsnake and a pit viper.
Frogs features one of the greatest advertising campaigns ever in the history of filmdom. This is the graphic render of a bullfrog clamping down on a dangling human hand. I thought as a kid —How big is this frog to have gulped down an entire body? This I have to see…
And saw it I did at a Drive-In theater in Northwest Indiana. I was floored. Reptiles, amphibians and spiders killing rude obnoxious people. This is the greatest film ever. I got the message too —Don’t mess with mother nature or the Frogs will get you. Ray Milland is especially good as a wheel-chair bound crotchety old patriarch to a disfunctional family of losers. One of his cronies suggests “pouring oil in the water to choke the frogs off”. Milland gripes that he doesn’t want his property smelling like a petroleum refinery. Just you wait, the Frogs are gonna get you buster…
Frogs benefits from a likeable cast with Sam Elliott and Joan Van Ark. I also like Morio Tosi’s cinematography, which is eerie and captures the surreal landscapes of a spagnum moss-covered swamp. He went on to better work in Carrie (1976) and The Stunt Man (1980). I can almost visualize Frogs as a black and white Roger Corman film from the 1950’s. Frogs is a bunch of hokum, and absolutely ridiculous (how menacing can a bunch of toads be?), but it’s left an indelible mark on my memory and it’s still a lot of fun.
They don’t make ’em like they used to.