The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 20 min.

Release Date: June 13th, 1953 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Eugene Lourie Actors: Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods, Lee Van Cleef, Steve Brodie, Ross Elliott, Jack Pennick

 


 

O

peration Experiment, a top priority scientific expedition far north of the Arctic Circle, is underway. At the forward observation post, an airplane approaches, as Colonel John Evans (Kenneth Tobey) and Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian, brandishing a distracting accent) anxiously await. An unseen narrator counts down the seconds to determine whether the mission has succeeded or failed. And then, an explosion sounds and a mushroom cloud forms, toppling glaciers and throwing ice and water across the barren terrain.

After the enormous eruption – an atomic bomb test – a foreign object appears on the radar screen, causing the military men to grow concerned. But maybe they didn’t really see anything at all. Perhaps the blip was a mere malfunction. A team then journeys toward the blast site, radiation counters at the ready. Two of the men proceed on foot, while the remaining two receive word of an advancing blizzard. With the decreased visibility and the hazardous cliffs of ice, the researchers – and the world – aren’t prepared for the appearance of a dinosaur-like monster unearthed from fathoms below.

Nesbitt is soon ferried to the Hartley Hospital in New York, where he’s treated for traumatic hallucinations; in these sorts of sci-fi thrillers, it’s not uncommon for authority figures and professionals to be skeptical of the hero’s sightings. When he’s proven right, however, there’s no time for celebration. Mankind is already under attack from a seemingly unstoppable force. And the scaly culprit is clearly a manifestation of the fears of nuclear testing of the era; a sea serpent conquering the world is more believable if meddling with Mother Nature provoked its wrath.

Technical effects by Ray Harryhausen allow for the stop-motion, titular beast to move among the actors, stiff and ungainly but nevertheless appealing (this would be his first credited involvement in creature animation). Its introduction in the environment at the start is reminiscent of “The Thing from Another World” (and, by extension, John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), before it travels to New York via the Atlantic like an adventurous Loch Ness monster. Later, the oversized reptile interrupts real footage of a shark eating an octopus in an unavoidably comical sequence.

“Perhaps I’m getting old.” More characters pop up, mostly to create roles sympathetic to Nesbitt’s discovery, including foremost paleontologist Dr. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway) and his assistant Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) – who also conveniently serves as an available love interest. Unfortunately, enough screentime is devoted to romantic banter (the couple even goes to a ballet!) and additional witnesses that the prehistoric behemoth remains unseen for a significant chunk of the film. This is a shame, considering that its terrorizing antics are the selling point – and the most entertaining aspect – of the B-movie storytelling (based loosely on a Ray Bradbury yarn).

When the beast inevitably climbs onto dry land (near Wall Street) to wreak havoc on New York City itself, it’s a riotous good time; the destructive climax – in which humankind is catastrophically punished for their carelessness with atomic experimentation – is faster paced and more serious. Even the complication of the dinosaur’s diseased blood is interesting, particularly as it resonates with the realistic scenario of radiation poisoning. Plus, the army sharpshooter brought in to utilize a radioactive isotope weapon is a very young but still somewhat recognizable Lee Van Cleef. And his method of travel is a rollercoaster cart – as if to reenforce the idea that battling Harryhausen’s colossal abomination (technically, a rhedosaurus) is a rollercoaster ride of its own.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10


The Complete Ray Harryhausen


The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)

Mysterious Island (1961)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

First Men in the Moon (1964)

One Million Years B.C. (1967)

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Clash of the Titans (1981)