Daily Archives: March 2, 2020

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

*. I’ve talked before about how, back in the day, big-name producers sometimes overshadowed, even creatively, their directors. Examples include Howard Hawks’s The Thing from Another World (directed by Christian Nyby) were Val Lewton’s Cat People (directed by Jacques Tourneur) and George Pal’s The War of the Worlds (directed by Byron Haskin).
*. But in the case of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms it’s not the producer’s name that gets most of the credit. Instead this is Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, with pre-eminence given to the man who did the stop-motion animation monster effects.
*. Poor Eugène Lourié. This was his directorial debut, having previously worked as a respected art director. Apparently he didn’t care much for directing, or at least directing monster movies, which he was immediately pigeonholed for after the success of this one. I wonder if he ever called up Ichiro Honda to commiserate. Meanwhile, Harryhausen says he was left on his own to do his scenes (that is, all the monster stuff).
*. The rest of the film, meaning the non-monster stuff, is predictably poor. The script feels like a work in progress, which I think in part it was, especially at the end. The business about the monster carrying a virus is really strained, and seems to only be introduced to take the military option of blowing it up off the table. Then the way it’s killed is an even bigger stretch. But then, by the standards of the genre I guess it’s not too crazy.
*. How cool is it that the marksman on call is Lee Van Cleef? He even says he picks his teeth with a grenade rifle. Go get ‘im, Angel Eyes.
*. I said that the ending was a stretch, with its silly idea about shooting a radioactive isotope at the monster, but that it’s not all that crazy given the genre we’re dealing with. And, I should add, given the time. These SF films from the ’50s and ’60s are full of pseudoscientific claptrap that just seems hilarious today. Two of the biggest laugh lines here are the title itself, since 20,000 fathoms is far deeper than the deepest part of the ocean, and the professor claiming the Beast has survived from the paleolithic age, which it obviously preceded by a few million years.
*. I’m not sure why they went with a title that was so far off the mark since my understanding is that the monster (a Rhedosaurus, which is a species they made up) was frozen in ice at or near the surface. But I guess it’s all carnival-barker hype anyway.

*. It’s also worth pointing out, while talking about the genre, that this movie introduced the idea of a giant monster somehow created or awakened by the explosion of atomic weapons. Godzilla would be on his way in another year.
*. Comparisons to Gojira (Godzilla) are inevitable. In terms of effects, I think Harryhausen’s work holds up quite well. Toho couldn’t do stop-motion animation because it was too expensive and so had to go the rubber-suit route, which worked out for them pretty well. Gojira, however, had more of a story behind it, for better or worse.
*. Speaking of silly genre elements, both this movie and Gojira (as well as the rest of the Godzilla franchise) share the ridiculous notion that these giant monsters can somehow be lost. I love the radio announcer here saying “It was last seen on Wall Street.” That’s it? And nobody knows where it went? How do you lose a dinosaur on Wall Street?
*. I find Lee (Paula Raymond) a sexy babe, in a somewhat rigid way, and really loved the way she kisses her fuddy-duddy old professor twice . . . on the mouth! Her boyfriend doesn’t get a taste of that action even at the end when he is going off to fight the monster. Oh to have lived in those blissful days of yore when professors naturally took their students in as “assistants.” And she makes coffee and brownies too!
*. This is a movie I can still watch and enjoy, but I think a lot of that comes down to it being very short. I like watching the Beast strolling through the canyons of NYC, tossing cars and eating people. The rest of the movie is silly trifle but at least quick and good humoured. Despite being a huge box-office success, however, it didn’t spawn a franchise like Godzilla’s. Perhaps a giant lizard that looked like a lizard (walking on four legs) just couldn’t be infused with enough personality. Godzilla quickly transformed into something almost human, but the Beast was done evolving.