1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is one of the inspirations for Godzilla, one of those films that I consider changed cinema. The film is mainly important for that fact, but lets look at the film itself and try and hold back on comparing it to its far more succesful Japanese equivalent.
The film starts out in the Arctic, and experimental nuclear testing, so far its a regular 50s monster film, nothing out of the ordinary, and with one exception. The reason it is remembered fondly, is because it is one of the films that special effects were done by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Well anyway a nuke is set off in the Arctic as mentioned and unsurprisingly, something is released from the ice (well at least it’s not an horrific shape changing alien) as radar picks up a foreign object, but it soon vanishes.
Our lead Tom Nesbit played by Paul Hubschmid leads an investigation team around the area of the blast (not because of the weird radar reading as that was ignored after it vanished) but soon you hear a roar and see something in the blizzard. George Ritchie played by Ross Elliott hears it again and as he turns around we see it, the Rhedosaurus brought to life by Ray Harryhausen (now dinosaur buffs it’s not a real species so don’t go nuts about it being far more reptilian than avian). Tom goes to save George after he falls in a crevasse but the movements of the rhedosaurus cause the ice to collapse.
Tom is saved but what soon happens is annoying when you have seen it over and over, no one believes him, not even pondering if what he is saying is true (and a snigger when the psychiatrist mentions the Loch Lomond monster hahahaha). Once again, people die but they refuse to accept that there is a monster right till its in their face. It gets rather old the 50th time you have seen that, and it slows the pace of the film completely.
It’s now you see its influence on Godzilla, as you see ships destroyed by the monster, it rising out of the depths destroying them. AND YET people going oh there’s no monster bla bla bla. The monster is the clear draw for the film, as without Ray Harryhausen’s effects it wouldn’t be remembered other than yet another 50s monster flick.
Over the next few minutes as we wait for the monster to show up again we are introduced to Professor Thurgood Elson and his assistant Lee Hunter (who is our lead woman). We see Lee Hunter letting Tom look through a bunch of pictures of what the 50s thought dinosaurs looked like till he finds one that looks nothing like the others. So after getting multiple people to confirm they saw the same creature Professor Thurgood decides to investigate. Fortunately our boredom is soon broken by one of the best scenes in the movie, where the beast destroys a lighthouse. The imagery as its silhouette is up against the lighthouse in the dark is a prime example of why this film is remembered. It is the first time we get a true idea of the scale of the monster as it destroys the light house.
It is in the later half of the film that the movie really picks up once you get past the oh the monster isn’t real part and follow the monster more (as said the monster is the true star of the film) though this just shows how dumb everything before was as there was countless accounts of stuff being destroyed and a monster. Well anyway Thurgood heads down in a diving bell to observe the beast. We do get some good scenes of the beast underwater, though Thurgood stays there talking about how great it is as it goes to eat him (not pressing the danger button which is EXTREMELY STUPID just going oh its marvellous, I cant help but imagine him describing how amazing its digestive system is.)
Well now comes the best bit of the film. The beast makes shore in New York city and goes on a destructive rampage. It’s this bit everyone remembers (well that and the light house) in fact if you just want to skip to this bit I won’t blame you. Seeing the master of stop motions early work as it attacks 1950s New York city several years before Godzilla attacks Japan done so very well. (and you really have to appreciate the balls on the police man who goes up to the beast slowly and calmly as he shoots the beast, sure he gets eaten but damn that guy had balls) You cant help but wonder, maybe keeping that as a giant monster off the coast of the major city a secret was a bad idea?
The army’s attempts to fight the monster work, however it is then found out that inside the beasts blood is a deadly contagion and thus continuing to use conventional arms will end up releasing it killing countless. So now they need to find away to kill the beast without causing it to spill blood. I like that as it’s a way of making the beast hard to kill without going to the boring old seemingly immune to bullets approach. Ultimately they come to the idea of using a radio-active isotope to kill the beast. This once again shows a difference between it and Godzilla. It’s clear that in Beast, it’s still a fear of the atomic age, as the beast was unleashed by a nuke, yet it is our heroes then using a nuclear isotope that kills it, meaning unlike Japan where the fear is of the nuke, with American films its more fear of the enemy having the nuke, as when we have it it’s good mentality.
So the finale has Tom (who was a nuclear scientist) approaching the beast who is now trapped in an old amusement park around a roller coaster, and he has just one shot to hit the beast in its wound with the isotope killing the beast. So anyway he succeeds and the beast is dead while the roller coaster is on fire as the end appears on screen.
While as said this is a classic film if it weren’t for it being an early example of the work of Ray Harryhausen it would be rather forgettable in amongst the other atomic monsters of its age. Though you can see its influences on the king of monsters first film, it is nothing compared to that master piece. Still its a fun movie that’s worth a shot, but if you just want to skip to the bits with the monster, I won’t judge.