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

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

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(6/10) In a nutshell: The father of all giant atomic monsters, The Beast inspired Godzilla and numerous other films to have giant dinosaurs or octopi crawl out of the water and wreak havoc on unsuspecting cities. Stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen’s first film in charge of the effects is somewhat hampered by a low budget and a meandering script, but there’s flashes of excellent acting among the blandness, and extremely riveting action sequences of the titular monster bearing down on New York. The cast is filled with sci-fi noteables and Lee Van Cleef. A genuine classic.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Directed by Eugène Lourié. Written by Lou Morheim, Fred Freiberger, Daniel James, Eugène Lourié, Robert Smith. Suggested by the short story The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury. Starring: Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods, Lee Van Cleef. Visual effects & animation: Ray Harryhausen. Produced by Jack Dietz for Mutual Pictures of California. Tomatometer: 94 % IMDb score: 6.7

Ray Harryhausen's Beast rampaging through New York.

Ray Harryhausen’s Beast rampaging through New York.

A couple of years back I worked as a foreign affairs editor at one of the top newspapers in Finland. One evening as I sat at my desk I saw the newsflash of Ray Harryhausen’s death. Strictly speaking, movies were not my jurisdiction, but I knew that the culture pages were already done and because of the late hour and recent cut-backs we were working on a skeleton crew, so I decided to walk down to the news desk to make sure they hadn’t missed the the flash.

Poster.

Poster.

”So, I suppose someone here is doing a bit on Ray Harryhausen’s death?” I asked.

I was met with blank stares and an unsettling silence.

Ray who?”

I wasn’t surprised that the people my age or younger didn’t know Harryhausen, but I would have expected at least some of the senior editors on deck to recognise the name. But that’s when I realised just how much the world of movies and popular culture had moved on since Harryhausen. Apart from film nerds like me, no-one under 50 watched of cared much about films like The 7th Voyage of Sindbad or Jason and the Argonauts.

I ended up writing the the short obituary myself. Continue reading

The Thing from Another World

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(9/10) The film that finally blew the doors open for science fiction in Hollywood was the 1951 picture The Thing from Another World. Directed (uncredited) by legendary Howard Hawks and starring an unknown ensemble cast, this film about a walking, murderous alien vegetable inspired a generation of filmmakers like John Carpenter, James Cameron, George Lucas, Joe Dante and Ridley Scott. The suberb overlapping dialogue, the strong female character, the great special effects and the claustrophobic atmosphere make this one of the all-time greats, even if you don’t agree with the jingoistic right-wing science bashing.

The Thing from Another World (1951). Directed by Christian Nyby and Howards Hawks. Written by Charled Lederer, Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht. Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Arness. Produced by Howard Hawks for Winchester Pictures Corporation and RKO Radio Pictures. Tomatometer: 88 %. IMDb score: 7.3

The iconic title of The Thing.

The iconic title of The Thing.

After a tentative start in 1950, Hollywood finally sank its claws deep inside science fiction in 1951, releasing two of the most influential and acclaimed science fiction films in the history of cinema. The second of these was the liberal, pacifist epic known as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review), about an alien landing in Washington to deliver a message of warning and of intergalactic peace. Five months prior to that, a completely different beast, set on destruction and world domination, crashed in the glaciers of the Arctic. This Thing from Another World gave birth to the later movie’s ideological counter-part, steeped in red-scare, militarism, science-bashing and paranoia. Despite the ideological differences, the films are equally revered by both camps, and the jury still seems to be out on which was the better entry. It has, however, reached the conclusion that few, if indeed any, sci-fi films of the following decade came even close to the quality of these to trail-blazers. Continue reading