Monday, June 20, 2011

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Again nuclear testing brings doom and gloom to human civilization.  "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (a.k.a. "The Monster From Beneath the Sea") is based on story by Ray Bradbury that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1951.  Some argue that this film was also one of the main inspirations for the film "Gojira" (1954).

Nuclear testing in the Arctic causes a prehistoric dinosaur to awaken from hibernation.  At first no one believes team member "Professor Tom Nesbit's" (Paul Christian) claim that he saw the creature while trying to rescue a fellow scientist and Nesbit is sent to a hospital back in the states for observation.  After reading about ships being sunk and claims of sightings of "sea serpents" he seeks the help of a skeptical paleontologist (Cecil Kelloway) and his assistant (Paula Raymond).  Nesbit also asks for help from the military through "Col. Jack Evans", (coffee drinking and cigarette smoking Kenneth Tobey of "The Thing From Another World", 1951) who was at the testing site.

The monster makes its way from the Arctic down the North Atlantic seacoast with brief stops to terrorize and demolish the coastline and sink ships in Nova Scotia, Maine, and Massachusetts, and then stomps and smashes its way through New York City culminating in a final epic battle on Coney Island.  One of my favorite scenes is when the monster topples a lighthouse on the coast of Maine which came directly from the illustration that accompanied Ray Bradbury's Saturday Evening Post story.

This film has incredible stop-motion effects by the master Ray Harryhausen and was his first solo project creating creatures for low budget films.  I find it amazing the way that Harryhausen makes these creatures seem so lifelike that, in a way, I sometimes feel sympathetic toward the monster. (I know, crazy right?)  He was once told that "his monsters die like tenors in an opera."  The film was made by an independent studio with a budget of $200,000 and was later sold to Warner Brothers for between $400,000 and $450,000.

Watch for a couple of quick scenes with James Best ("Jim Lindsey" on the Andy Griffith show) as "Charlie" the radar technician.

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