With Cloverfield still taking a Godzillian bite of the box office, the Bureau’s Weekend Review looks back at the film that birthed the Kaiju genre. No, not the Big G himself, but this Ray Harryhausen flick from 1953.

Cast and Crew

Director: Eugène Lourié
Writers: Ray Bradbury, Fred Freiberger et al.

Effects by Ray Harryhausen

Paul Hubschmid as Tom Nesbitt
Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter
Cecil Kellaway as Thurgood Elson
Kenneth Toby as Col. Jack Evans
Donald Woods as Capt. Phil Jackson
Full credits available at the imdb.

Available at Amazon.com.

High Point

A monstrous dinosaur stomps into 1953 New York. What more do you need to know?

Okay, fine. The monster in question is a rhedosaurus, a very large, scary-looking carnivore concocted for the film. Like many of its successors– Godzilla, Gorgo, and the Cloverfield Creature– it can live both underwater and on land. Although it survives considerable military fire, conventional weapons can kill it. The reason why the military cannot continue firing is ingeneous, especially when compared with later films, where the monster is simply invulnerable.

Low Point

Some very intelligent people take evidence that might, at best, make them curious, to be proof of the monster’s existence.

How do you lose track of a 100(?)–foot-long dinosaur, even in NYC?

The Review

Originality: 5/6 King Kong crashed into New York first, and Godzilla made history by putting a man in a suit and having him stomp a model city. This film, however, established the default pattern for a genre:

  • Human action awakens the beast
  • Sporadic reports of a monster meet with skepticism
  • Representatives of science and the military investigate
  • A gratuitous romance blossoms
  • Everyone speaks in expository dialogue
  • After doing isolated mischief, the creature assaults a major city
  • People scream and flee in terror
  • Early attempts to beat the beast fail
  • Science and the Human Spirit prove an unbeatable combination.

Effects: 5/6. Harryhausen’s animated model work was state-of-the-art then and it still looks pretty good, though contemporary audiences will certainly be aware that the monster is a model. The night shots work best. Some of the rear projection is poor.

Story 4/6. Don’t think too hard about how the dinosaur survived, why a university paleontologist has instant access to military operations, or where the creature is from given that the ocean at its deepest reaches 6033 fathoms.

Acting: 4/6. The film features competent but wooden performances.

Production 5/6. The filmmakers achieved impressive results on a limited budget. Really big-budget SF didn’t exist then.

Emotional Response: 5/6. This may not be a great film, but it’s a fun movie.

Overall 4/6 The film lacks Godzilla’s subtext. To the degree that this film concerns the atom, it is not with the anguish of Gojira but more a sense of “what have we wrought?” Mostly, however, the film is about a monster on a rampage, with the bomb serving mainly as a plot device.

In total, The Beast from 20000 Fathoms receives 32/42.

Notes

The film was in the works when The Saturday Evening Post published Ray Bradbury’s “The Beast from 20000 Fathoms” (later republished as The Fog Horn). Elements of which were incorporated into the film. Sources vary on how much the story actually influenced the final movie. Bradbury’s story may be found in Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun and the rare The Fog Horn.

Eugène Lourié was art director for the anti-Marijuana flick, Wild Weed, which perhaps explains why this film contains a surprising, seemingly anachronistic reference to “smoking that stuff.”

The rhedosaurus reappears in a later, less celebrated film, Planet of the Dinosaurs.