Cert: PG Runtime: 80 mins Director: Eugène Lourié Cast: Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods and Lee Van Cleef
The world’s been here for millions of years. Man’s been walking upright for a comparatively short time. Mentally we’re still crawling
Called the American Godzilla, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is next in my Giant Monster month. Working north of the Arctic Circle, Prof. Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) and his team believe they’ve seen a gigantic dinosaur. All are killed except for Nesbitt but evacuated to New York, no one will take his story seriously. He visits a renowned paleontologist, Prof. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), for help but he thinks the suggestion of a living dinosaur is preposterous. Soon however there are reports of sea monster sightings, first in the Grand Banks and then off the coasts of Nova Scotia and the Maine. It appears the creature is headed to New York and they believe that a creature may have been awakened by nuclear testing. After Elson is killed by the beast, it’s left to Nesbitt and Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) to find a way to destroy the creature.
Written by Eugène Lourié and a team of writers, the basic story is probably a cliché nowadays but this film is in fact the very first movie about a giant creature awakened by Nuclear energy. This subtle yet paranoid awareness of the dangers of Nuclear Energy would become the standard of many films across the 50s, making “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” a very influential film in aspects beyond its revolutionary special effects. Another element that makes this movie better than most of its imitations, is the way the characters are developed through the film and it’s really interesting to see the characters’ relationships with their respective professions and the consequences of their actions.The movie has a very fast pace that never gets boring or tiresome, and Lourié balances very well the drama scenes and the special effects action. While Lourié really makes a good job, the real star is Ray Harryhausen’s amazing work in the special effects department, as it is his monster what gives the movie its heart. There was probably no better film than this for Harryhausen to start, as he makes sure to pay homage to his master Willis O’Brien’s two most famous works (“King Kong” and “The Lost World”) while at the same time creating iconic images of great beauty.
Paul Hubschmid as Tom Nesbitt does a very effective job carrying the film, and really manages to avoid being overshadowed by the special effects. While far from perfect, he makes a competent lead character and a nice counterpart to the beautiful Paula Raymond, who also delivers a very good performance as Prof. Elson’s young and bright assistant. Actor Cecil Kellaway adds his experience to the cast and delivers a terrific job as the charming Prof. Elson, stealing every scene he is with his lovable wit and his effective touch for comedy. It would be very easy to dismiss “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” because of its nowadays clichéd plot however, one has to remember that this was among the first films to tell this kind of story. While the movie reflects the mindset and ideologies of the time where it was made, it also aims to the future and offers a chance to see what was expected of the following years. Sure, it looks really old for today’s technology, but the whole film has a heart and a magic that just make the effects seem alive and real.“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” is without a doubt a classic film of the 50s that still carries a frightening and far from outdated message beneath Harryhausen wonderful effects.