“THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS” (1953)_
The first in director Eugene Lourié’s “giant beast wreaks havoc on a major city” trilogy (followed in 1959 by the rather redundantly titled “The Giant Behemoth” and in 1961 with “Gorgo”), this 1953 thriller was a certain inspiration for Toho’s 1955 “Gojira”, especially with it’s concept of a prehistoric monster emerging from hibernation through radiation.
The product of a rather impractical atomic bomb test on the North Pole ice pack that seems to have an unnatural resistance to superheated atomic fireballs that doesn’t allow for the vaporization of the ice, but does reactivate prehistoric beasties. The fictional rhedosaurus, a reptilian creation which looks more apropos to a tale of St. George and the Dragon rather than a genuine dinosaur would appear amphibious as it skulks about the ocean floor, emerging at opportune moments to capsize passing ships equipped with colorful salty characters who will be conveniently used as objects of foolish derision to supposedly up the suspense ante as the body count increases as the creature makes it’s way down to New York City via the North Atlantic Current.
The film is “suggested” by a Saturday Evening Post story by Ray Bradbury, actually his 1951 classic “The Fog Horn”, a brief vignette about a lonely dinosaur who mistakes the fog horn of a lighthouse to be the call of a companion creature. The incident is memorably recalled in the film and is one of the most impressively rendered as it is shot almost entirely in an eerie yet poetically tranquil nocturnal silhouette; affording the beast with an enhanced otherworldliness, an almost spectral dimension. Films of this type are wholly dependent on the success of their various set pieces, and in this there is a constant level of invention that is quite invigorating, propelling the narrative from one exciting encounter to another with the performers only intermittently intruding on the action. (Though an inexplicable scene with Paul Christian and Paula Raymond attending a sparsely staged ballet is difficult to fathom. It’s as if the filmmakers were trying to apologize for the enjoyable gee whiz nature of the film by inserting a subliminal bit of “high culture”.)
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