The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

08/25/2015 20:43

Film: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Year: 1953

Director: Eugène Lourié

Writer: Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger

Starring: Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond and Cecil Kellaway



This film is one that I learned about through a trailer on an old VHS tape that my parents had. It was playing before the movie started if memory serves. I believe that I finally sought this one out thanks to my mother who likes older movies like this. I’ve now given it a second watch as part of my Traverse through the Threes.

Synopsis: a ferocious dinosaur awakened by an Arctic atomic test terrorizes the North Atlantic and, ultimately, New York City.

We begin like the synopsis states in the Arctic. There is voice-over narration letting us know what they’re doing and it is also cryptic. It needs to be precise as they are dropping them and having a team go out to collect data. A couple of guys go out there. One is Prof. Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) and his partner is George Ritchie (Ross Elliott). The latter sees something huge moving, causing him to fall. He gets off a shot from his gun though. His partner searches for him, catching a glimpse before he is knocked out.

When he recovers though, no one believes his story. He was sent back to the United States as he needed hospitalization. He is required to talked to a psychiatrist to make sense of what he says. That is when reports of this beast being sighed come in. First a ship is destroyed in the North Atlantic. The captain survives, but no one believes him. He won’t even talk to Tom.

Tom then goes to the world’s leading paleontologist. This is a Prof. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway). Much like the others, he doesn’t believe the story and chalks it up to fishermen tales. His assistant believes that it is possible. Her name is Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond). She points out that her boss won’t believe it without proof. She teams up with Tom to find it.

There was an attack on a lighthouse by the creature. Tom goes up and speaks with the survivor who is convinced of what he saw too. Together they return to Prof. Elson. Independently they both identify the same exact creature from a drawing. He is on board now as well.

Tom then reaches out to Col. Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey). They give him the information that they have. He as stationed with Tom in the Artic. Having Prof. Elson to back them up, he then reaches out to a naval officer he knows. Prof. Elson points out that attacks seem to be following an underwater current, with New York City being the likely destination. They board a ship to try to find it before it is too late.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll start is that this is a good giant monster movie. We are getting a basic story here and it is interesting that this feels like a cautionary tale to nuclear power. It even comes out a year before the original Godzilla does. The bombing in the Artic doesn’t create it, but it frees it. I’m gathering this is the fear that comes with the power of this weapon. You could also see this as an early eco-horror film. It would also fall in this run of movies in this era that feature giant animals as well.

Since the best part of this is that creature, let be delve into it and the effects. The beast was done by Ray Harryhausen, who was one of the best all-time with stop-motion photography. It looks amazing. That along with the miniature work is on point. You can tell it is fake, but I’ll be honest, I’ll take this over CGI. I was quite impressed. The cinematography should also be pulled into here as this helps with the magic of making it feel more real than it should be. I give high marks.

Then to shift back to the story, I forgot this is based on a short from Ray Bradbury. I’d be curious to see what that features and if there is anything else fleshed out with it. It was interesting to see that it was in the Saturday Evening Post. I know of this magazine due to the covers. Didn’t realize they would run a story like this so I’m impressed there. If I do have an issue here, the story is lacking what we get put on the screen. It is mostly Tom trying to prove what he saw before it is too late.

The last thing here though is a subtle bit with the monster. It is a dinosaur that was frozen in ice. This put it in a state of suspended animation. What I like is something that I’ve recently heard. A biproduct that could be bad for humanity with the polar caps melting are diseases that are frozen that we don’t have immunities to. This has a bit of that where people who are exposed to its blood are getting sick. I love this subplot. All that factors in though is making the creature needing to be killed a certain way so humanity doesn’t die. I do appreciate the effort here.

I think the only thing left to go into would be with the acting. Hubschmid is good as our lead. He has a charisma about him. I also like that he’s a scientist so even though people don’t believe him, there is still respect there. Raymond is fine as the female lead who is helping him. I liked Kellaway as this odd ball paleontologist. There is a bit of humor he brings. Tobey, Donald Woods, Lee Van Cleef and Steve Brodie are good as military men. I’d also say that the rest of the cast was solid to round this out for what was needed.

In conclusion, this is a solid giant monster movie. It is from that era where we got films that feared atomic power and I like that this one is a bit different what it does. The monster is great and what Harryhausen does to bring it to life is amazing. I think that the filmmaking also helps there. If anything, I do think that a bit more could help to beef up the story. The acting is good though. Other than that, I’d say this is a tight little film that flies by. I’d recommend to fans of this era of cinema or want to see an early kaiju picture of sorts.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10