According to Paul Marco, Edward D. Wood Jr. thought that Bela Lugosi's memory might not be very good, so for Lugosi's long speech, Wood had the prop man make cue cards. Lugosi, upset, insisted he didn't need cue cards and he would "memorize it." Wood still insisted on the cue cards, telling Lugosi, "We have to be safe". Lugosi went to Marco for help. He had Marco promise not to show him the cue cards during the scene. Marco held the cards at his side the whole time and Lugosi never looked over once. After Lugosi's performance the whole crew got up and applauded.
This was Edward D. Wood Jr.'s only financially successful film upon original release.
Despite the film's poor reputation, Bela Lugosi fans tend to like it. It casts him in a substantial role, offers him memorable lines, and Lugosi gives a surprisingly energetic performance for his age.
Edward D. Wood Jr. began shooting this film--then called "Bride of the Atom"--in October 1954 on a tiny sound stage in Los Angeles called Ted Allan Studios. He ran out of money after just three days and had to shut down production.
In 1980, the book "The Golden Turkey Awards" claims that Bela Lugosi's character declares his manservant Lobo (Tor Johnson) "as harmless as kitchen" [sic]. This allegedly misspoken line is cited as evidence of either Lugosi's failing health/mental faculties, or as further evidence of Wood's incompetence as a director. However, a viewing of the film itself reveals that Lugosi said this line correctly, the exact words being, "Don't be afraid of Lobo; he's as gentle as a kitten." The easier explanation would be that authors Michael Medved and Harry Medved saw the film in a theater setting with inferior sound quality. A single viewing in such conditions could result in mishearing some lines of dialogue. Unfortunately, the inaccurate claim managed to achieve urban legend status, and it keeps circulating.
The film's sequel, Night of the Ghouls (1959), was completed in 1959 but due to financial wranglings wasn't released until 1987.
Producer Donald E. McCoy strongly disagreed with the use of nuclear warheads. He only agreed to finance the film if Edward D. Wood Jr. rewrote his original script, and made it end with a nuclear explosion as a warning against the use of nuclear weapons.
Tony McCoy was cast in the male lead role, primarily because his father, Arizona entrepreneur Donald E. McCoy, was the owner of Packing Service Corp. (a meat packing concern), and a major investor in the film, and insisted that son Tony get the lead role. SInce he was providing the money, Tony got the role.
The character of Janet was originally written for Dolores Fuller, Edward D. Wood Jr.'s girlfriend.
Contrary to popular legend, Bela Lugosi cannot be seen fighting the rubber octopus in the sump (filmed in Griffith Park). Close examination of the scene reveals a stunt double doing battle. In fact, all the shots of Vornoff carrying Janet through the brush and moving down the hill, reveal a stunt double for Lugosi. Even the real close-ups of Lugosi during these sequences appear to have been shot on a stage with black backing.
Box office receipts from the film led to distributor Samuel Z. Arkoff being able to set up American International Productions.
The film uses both stock footage of a real octopus and a fake, rubber octopus in scenes where "the monster" interacts with actors. It is widely believed this is a prop from the film Wake of the Red Witch (1948). Contradictory accounts claim that Edward D. Wood Jr. either stole or rented the prop from Republic Pictures, which produced the earlier film.
Lobo's apparent fetish with angora wool is a reflection of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s own fetish with the material.
Edward D. Wood Jr. credited Alex Gordon with co-writing the story and screenplay as thanks for giving him the idea. Gordon actually contributed nothing to the script.
Stuntman Eddie Parker's participation in this film is still debatable. The story that he doubled Bela Lugosi stems from amateur fanzines in the early 1960s, and the assumption that Parker doubled Lugosi in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). He didn't. Parker doubled Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man; Australian actor/stuntman Gil Perkins doubled the Monster.
While this was the last speaking part of Bela Lugosi, it wasn't his last film. Lugosi subsequently played a silent part in The Black Sleep (1956). Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) uses silent archive footage of Lugosi, but he died prior to its filming. The footage was from an unfinished film called "The Vampire's Tomb". Lock Up Your Daughters! (1969) was recycled footage from Lugosi's earlier films, possibly mixed with some new material.
When Vornoff has Janet Lawton strapped to the table, he tells her she is about to become "The Bride of the Atom". "The Bride of the Atom" was this film's working title.
This was the last film in which Bela Lugosi played a "a charismatic villain whose megalomania leads to downfall and destruction". This was the type of role that he is mainly remembered for.
The film contains Cold War themes such as agents of foreign powers, nuclear power, and atomic weapons. They were prevalent enough in films of the 1950s and 1960s that some commentators have called them a subgenre in itself.
The financing for the film was provided by rancher Donald McCoy, father of actor Tony McCoy. One of his terms to Ed Wood was that his son had to be cast as a protagonist.
The country of origin for Vornoff and Strowski is left unnamed. The only clues are that it is European and has its own dreams of conquest. By implication, the country which exiled Vornoff in the 1930s could be Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Strowski uses the term "master race", which is a key concept of Nazism.
According to Scott Zimmermam, an acquaintance of Edward D. Wood Jr., the mystery about the house depicted in the film had a solution. According to this version of the story, it was a normal two-story house located in a crowded neighborhood of Los Angeles. For the purposes of the scene, Wood reportedly had a canvas tarpaulin erected behind the house to mask the presence of other buildings in the background. The painted canvas created the illusion that the house itself was part of a painting. There are some doubts about his story.
The film includes a scene between Kelton the Cop and a newspaper seller. The latter is played by William 'Billy' Benedict, known as one of The Bowery Boys.
This film is part of what Edward D. Wood Jr. aficionados refer to as "The Kelton Trilogy", a trio of films featuring Paul Marco as "Officer Kelton", a whining, reluctant policeman. The other two films are Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Night of the Ghouls (1959). Kelton is the only character to appear in all three films.
Throughout the film, the mute Lobo is implied to have an unspecified intellectual disability and to be of sub-human intelligence. However, he successfully operates complex machinery as if he had been trained to do so.
In a subplot, there are storms every night for three months and strange weather patterns. The characters attribute the phenomenon to the effects the nuclear explosions have on the atmosphere. This probably reflects actual anxiety of the 1950s about potential climate change. Until the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), atmospheric nuclear weapons testing was used widely and recklessly. In the context of the film, the strange weather is implied to be a side-effect of the experiments of Vornoff, which apparently released radioactivity into the atmosphere.
The opening credits feature the exterior of a house, introducing the location where much of the plot will supposedly take place. It is uncertain whether this opening scene features a real location or theatrical scenery of some sort. Various theories exist, suggesting that the scene features the shot of a matte painting, a rear projection effect, or a miniature effect.
The scenes with captive Janet dressed in a bridal gown while restrained by leather shackles have led some reviewers to commend on their sadomasochistic nature.
The title "Bride of the Atom", which Vornoff uses for Janet in the bridal dress, is inexplicable unless the scientist is actually attempting to use Janet to replace his long-lost wife. One of his re-assuring lines to Janet concerning the experiment, "It hurts, just for a moment, but then you will emerge a woman . . . " sounds as if he's preparing her for the loss of her virginity.
The final scenes, with the mushroom cloud of the nuclear explosion, use stock footage from the blast of a hydrogen bomb.
The first incarnation of the film was a 1953 script by Alex Gordon titled "The Atomic Monster", but a lack of financing prevented any production. Later Edward D. Wood Jr. revived the project as "The Monster of the Marshes".
The reasons Loretta King was cast as the female lead instead of Dolores Fuller are disputed. Decades later, Fuller claimed that King bribed Edward D. Wood Jr. into casting her as Janet with promises of securing further funding for the film (King has vehemently denied this). Fuller wound up with a part in the film, but it was just a short appearance, not much more than a cameo.
Tor Johnson also plays a character called Lobo in The Unearthly (1957), directed by Boris Petroff. This character also serves the main villain.