It Came from Beneath the Sea

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(4/10) A giant radioactive octopus destroys San Francisco in Columbia’s stale rehash of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This low-budget programmer is saved by a good leading cast and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation. George Worthing Yates writes a strong part for scream queen Faith Domergue, giving it a feminist slant. The hero from King Dinosaur, William Bryant, is back in a bit-part, but this time it is sci-fi stalwart Kenneth Tobey’s turn to ”bring the atom bomb”.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, USA). Directed by Robert Gordon. Written by George Worthing Yates, Harold Jacob Smith. Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis. Produced by Charles H. Schneer for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: 67% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

Radioactive deep-sea dangers menaced the world in the mid-fifties, and it all started with the Warner-distributed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), which in turn was inspired by the immensely successful re-release of King King (1933, review) in 1952. King Kong showed Hollywood that stop-motion animation was still as effective a way for creating giant monsters as it had been twenty years earlier. King Kong, or course, was animated by legendary Willis O’Brien, as was its inferior slapdash sequel Son of Kong (1933). A much worthier follow-up was made in 1949, Mighty Joe Young, which gave O’Brien his only Oscar, although most of the animation was done by his apprentice, a young man called Ray Harryhausen, who would hone his animating skills on George Pal’s Puppetoons replacement animation film series. When producer Jack Dietz had the idea to make a giant monster film about a radioactive dinosaur wreaking havoc in New York, the call went out to Ray Harryhausen to create the creature in the stop-motion technique, and that film’s huge success spawned the inferior rip-off It Came from Beneah the Sea. Continue reading

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Conquest of Space

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(4/10) Back with his fourth science fiction epic, George Pal sets out to explore the mental and theological aspects of a trip to Mars. Good ideas abound, but the movie is scuttled by ham-fisted script. The special effects are very ambitious and impressive when they work. Unfortunately they don’t work most of the time, leaving us with flickering composites and thick matte lines. Pal’s idea of bringing humour into the mix is making one of the astronauts a dim-witted Brooklyn stand-up comedian. Fun to watch, but ultimately disappointing.

Astronauts on a space sled going from a rocket to the space station, "The Wheel".

Astronauts on a space sled going from a rocket to the space station, “The Wheel”.

Conquest of Space (1955, USA). Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by: James O’Hanlon, Philip Yordan, Barré Lyndon, George Worthing Yates. Based on the books Conquest of Space by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Lay and The Mars Project by Hermann Oberth. Starring: Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy, Phil Foster, William Redfield, William Hopper, Benson Fong, Ross Martin. Produced by George Pal for Paramount Pictures.
IMDb rating: 5.8/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

If someone asks you who was the most important person for the popularisation of science fiction films in the fifties, there can really only be one answer, and that’s producer George Pal. It was Pal’s extremely ambitious and visionary, albeit horribly flawed, independent film Destination Moon (1950, review) that kicked off the whole sci-fi craze. Likewise, it has been claimed that it was his 1955 movie Conquest of Space that killed it. This is a questionable statement, since some of the best sci-fi films of the fifties were still to come after Conquest of Space. And furthermore, even though it has been described as a horrible flop when it came out, it actually didn’t do all that badly. It made a million dollars at the US box office, essentially making back its shooting budget. That is not to deny that it is, at so many levels, a deeply flawed film. Continue reading

Them!

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(8/10) The first true giant bug movie, Them!, was released in 1954 and set the template for years to come. However, few, if any, giant insect films have come close to the cinematic quality of the original. Giant mutated ants appear in New Mexico and threaten to wipe out humanity. Only Science and the American Way can stop them! Good acting, a smart script, well-held suspense, well-placed comedy, superb full-size giant ant puppets and a fifties Ellen Ripley. Watch out for Leonard Nimoy’s cameo.

Them! (1954, USA). Directed by Gordon Douglas. Written by George Worthing Yates, Russell S. Hughes, Ted Sherdeman. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Sandy Descher, Fess Parker, Leonard Nimoy, William Schallert. Produced by David Weisbart for Warner Bros. IMDb rating: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Fresh. Metacritic: N/A.

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

On the site Gary Westfahl’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Films, the author writes: ”Although there were several strange and striking films in the early 1950s that demonstrated in various ways what science fiction films of that era might have become /…/ there was one film that precisely exemplified what science fiction film in the 1950s actually became, and that was Them!” And I would agree. While there were quite a few noteable exceptions, like George Pal’s ambitious space film Conquest of Space (1955), the claustrophobic social drama Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the Shakespearean space opera Forbidden Planet (1956), Them! set the template for the latter part of the fifties. This was the first actual giant bug film, and, many would say, the best. Continue reading