Alligator is another film I remember being on television almost constantly when when I was a kid, although the only part I could remember distinctly was the climatic scene of a a cop placing a time bomb in a sewer and not being able to escape because a car had stopped directly over a manhole, locking him in, as his partner screams to the driver of the car to move out of the way.
Watching it again after so many years did not exactly make the memories come flooding back, but Alligator actually ranks fairly high among the animal disaster films that have been made steadily since the 50s. In this case, there are not swarms of gators, but just one which was bought by a little lizard-loving girl from Missouri who brought it back from a family vacation in Florida and named it Ramon, after which her father flushed it down the toilet. Years later the little girl has grown up to be a leading herpetologist and Ramon has grown into a massive beast. A withered old head of a chemical firm is pushing his staff to develop a fountain of youth synthetic hormone, which they are developing through experiments on dogs acquired through a shady pet shop owner who disposes of the hormone stuffed subjects in the sewers, where Ramon snacks on them.
Robert Forster is good as slovenly but earnest cop investigating dismembered remains that are turning up in the city sewer system. It was probably his performance in this cult film that led Quentin Tarantino to cast him in Jackie Brown, bringing about a recent revival in his career. His thick-skinned character brushes off antagonism from a pushy reporter and an arrogant big-game hunter played by Henry Silva. As is case in sci-fi films on giant animals, the leading expert in the relevant field is a beautiful woman who becomes a love interest. The exact same thing happened in It Came From Beneath the Sea in 1955. Forster’s performance adds a lot to the film in a genre that usually relies on special effects. The special effects here are not that great, and the shots of what is obviously a normal-sized alligator romping around miniature sets raise a chuckle. The films seems to also revel in subtly poking fun at its own genre, with police cars and boats exploding into flames as the result of the slightest accidents, and a parody of the Jaws underwater shots of a woman’s legs, this time replace by a chubby police officer.
On a side note, the geography in this film is all screwed up. Although this was filmed in and around Los Angeles, it is set in the Midwest. When the little girl returns from the Florida vacation with her family, they drive by a roadside sign reading “Welcome to Missouri”. Forester’s character talks about his work “back in St. Louis.” All of the police cars have Missouri license plates. The herpetologist is referred to a “native of our city,” meaning the setting might be Kansas City, Missouri, which doesn’t really fit the topography of the lakes, canals and rivers. Further complicating things, the directors commentary on the DVD names the location as Chicago. Maybe they thought Chicago is in Missouri. Oh, well.