Sunday, 29 November 2015

IT!...Came From the 50s #5: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 giant monster film. Directed by Eugene Lourie (Gorgo) the film stars Paul Hubschmid, Cecil Kellaway (Harvey) and Lee van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). The film features the pioneering work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Clash of the Titans) in his first credited project.

Starting off in the Arctic circle, we are let in on a top secret project called "Operation Experiment" (rubbish secret name) in which Dr Nesbitt (Hubschmid) and his colleagues are studying the effects of atomic weaponry. As is often the case, the foolish experiments end up awaking a giant prehistoric lizard who decimates the science team and begins to work his way down the east coast of North America. After successfully convincing his superior commander (Van Cleef) and the world's leading paleontologist (Kellaway) of his discovery, a team is soon put together to stop the beast from destroying New York. However, aside from being gigantic and, let's face it, a double hard bastard, the lizard is also carrying lethal radioactive blood. This leads to a climax set on Coney island which not only requires the use of a roller coaster, but also a radioactive isotope to be shot into the throat of the creature and save humanity.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's because it's near identical to the very first Godzilla film which was released a little over a year after this film. In fact, The Beast not only helped to directly inspire Gojira (1954) but also the giant/atomic monster movies of the 50s and beyond, making it a very important film indeed. However, where Gojira would go on to spawn an iconic franchise consisting of no less than 27 sequels, The Beast came and went with little fanfare and it perplexes me why a sequel was never produced.

The plot is solid and the pacing is classical in it's "less is more" approach, favouring a strong mystery vibe rather than a "dinosaur smashing buildings up" approach. But when the smashing starts, it is a glorious sight...even to 2015 eyes! The combination of Harryhausen's inimitable stop motion work with front projection and an awful lots of extras running for their lives is surprisingly convincing and a lot of fun to watch. The clever twist of the creature's blood being radioactive, therefore necessitating a slightly smarter approach, is genius and I wished they'd perhaps spent a bit more time on this.

The Beast From 20,000 fathoms might be the more overlooked giant monster film when it comes to classics like Gojira and Them! (also 1954) and the "Rhedosaurus" may seem like the more bland creation to modern eyes but this is a truly iconic film with substance to back it up. Recommended viewing for any Godzilla/Kaiju fans, or indeed any fans of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, The Beast is representative of both of those things and I was certainly left wanting more.

***** 5 Stars

Have you seen the movie? What's your favourite giant monster movie?


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