Friday, 26 July 2013

Phantom from Space (1953)

Good Fun
Low budget B-grader with limitations
Occasionally suspenseful & thoughtful
A lot of potential but falls a bit short

Director & Producer: W. Lee Wilder
Writers: William Raynor, Myles Wilder
Music: William Lava
Cinematography: William H. Clothier
Editing: George Gale
Distributor: United Artists
Running time: 73 minutes approx.


Ted Cooper: Lt. Hazen
Harry Landers: Lt. Bowers
Noreen Nash: Barbara Randall
James Seay: Maj. Andrews
Tom Daly: Charlie
Steve Acton: Mobile Centre Dispatcher
Burt Wenland: Agent Joe
Lela Nelson: Betty Evans
Burt Arnold: Darrow
Sandy Sanders: First Policeman
Harry Strang: Neighbour
Jim Bannon: Desk Sgt. Jim
Jack Daly: Joe Wakeman
Michael Mark: Refinery Watchman
Rudolph Anders: Dr. Wyatt
Michael Mark: Watchman


Spoilers follow below.....

[ S E C R E T ]
[Security Information]



[ S E C R E T ]
[Security Information]

At 7.19 pm on April 1, 1953 an unidentified flying object was tracked entering the earth's atmosphere traveling at some 5,000 MPH.

The object was tracked 200 miles south west of Port Barrow Alaska; White warning issued.

The object was then tracked heading over British Columbia; Yellow Warning issued.

The object was tracked as far as Santa Monica, California; Red Warning issued.

After travelling some 3,000 miles down the Pacific coast, the object lost speed and seemed to have disappeared. All traces of the UFO had been lost by this stage.

Reports were soon received relating to radio and television signal interference.

It was speculated that it was the object that was being tracked and which disappeared over Santa Monica that was causing massive interference with television and radio transmissions.

Federal Communications Commission investigators led by agent Lt. Hazen, arrived in the San Fernando Valley after what, judging from the above sequence of events, appears to have been a UFO crash landing.

Several teams of FCC agents employed mobile tracking units to go out and look for the source of the interference, using RDF gear to triangulate the source.

During the course of the investigation eye-witness reports were received of a man (designated ‘X’) dressed in a bizarre outfit. The following statements were given to FCC agents and LAPD personnel;
  • Betty Evans (whose husband was reportedly killed by (X) while having a picnic with his wife): “Wearing a suit like a diver.” 
  • Pete _____ (Friend of & boarder with Betty Evens and her husband): “Crazy helmet, with pipes sticking out of it.” He went on to state that there was no head in the helmet.

The following is an artist’s sketch of (X) taken from Mrs. Evan’s & Pete_____’s description;

Initially suspicion fell on Pete _______ for the murder of Mrs. Evan’s husband as part of some sort of lovers' triangle with Betty, until a second murder was reported in the same area.

The interference was soon triangulated and tracked moving toward the Huntington Oil Fields where an oil tank was set ablaze in an explosion.

The source of the interference appeared to have been moving in a random pattern which led investigators to deduce that someone was carrying around the source of the interference.

Central to the function of this agency, is the possible scenario constructed by the investigators based on the available evidence. Namely, that (X) was responsible for two murders and an explosion at the oil fields; that he was wearing what appeared to have been a “flying suit with a helmet”; that he was probably “dropped by parachute”; that he was evidently “not one of ours” and that it is likely that he was in the process of conducting “sabotage.”

However, during a meeting conducted at the Griffith Observatory between Detective Bowers (LAPD), Lt. Hazen, Major Andrews (Air Force) and Doctor Wyatt (Griffith Observ.), the possibility of a clandestine espionage mission was discounted. First of all, the unidentified object was tracked travelling at an estimated speed of 5000 MPH as stated above. Neither the United States nor any other country currently possesses a practical and functional craft capable of achieving such speeds. Secondly, as the object was travelling horizontally, it was unlikely to have been a meteor. Thirdly, (X’s) attire and actions did not suggest the presence of someone acting “under cover.”

It was concluded that (X) had come in on the UFO and was on the loose in west Los Angeles.

The FCC increased its efforts to track (X) by its interference until it was finally tracked down to a warehouse in the area of the oil refinery.
Despite apparently being cornered in a shed, (X) was nowhere to be found when members of the investigative team entered. Only the suit and helmet were discovered.

It was deduced that (X) had taken off his suit and helmet to avoid detection,

Due to the presence of radioactivity, the suit was contained in a lead-lined box and taken to the Griffith Observatory laboratories.

The investigation conducted at the Griffith Observatory, (together with a series of unusual events at the Observatory site provided in file #_____,)  uncovered  some highly classified facts which are relevant to the function of this agency, as well as various other government departments and agencies that have been appraised of the events covered by this document;

  • The presence of high levels of radioactivity associated with the suit and helmet.
  • That (X) was able to avoid capture using the “power” of invisibility.
  • The suit had no weave, was of a solid mass and could not be torn or burned. It appeared to have been made of a metallic material and it was magnetic.
  • (X’s) suit seems to have acted like an iron lung and was essential to his being able to survive in our atmosphere. The air inside the tanks was found to have been composed of 11% methane.
  • (X) was like a ‘superhuman’ with intelligence superior to our own.
  • (X’s) craft may have been a space ship that operated using magnetic levitation.
  • (X’s) presence could be revealed by use of ultra-violet light sources.
  • As in the case of human beings, (X) possessed an opposable thumb.
  • Unlike human beings which are carbon-based life forms, (X) appears to have been a silicon-based life form. Its cellular structure was somehow able to interact with our planet’s gases to render him invisible.
  • Although it seemed as if (X) could not talk as we do, what seems more likely is that it could communicate only by using a form of high frequency speech beyond the range of human hearing as determined by the reactions of a dog that was present at the Observatory. 

The threat-assessment of (X) was reduced somewhat when the following factors were taken into account;
  • (X) apparently only killed in self-defence when he thought that he was being threatened by people.
  • The explosion at the oil refinery was the result of an accident.
  • (X) did attempt to communicate via a tapping morse-style code.

As with the case of previous similar encounters and anomalous events, we lack much in the way of survivable physical evidence, since in the incident described above, (X) and his suit have evaporated or disintegrated by some process as yet unclear to us. However, accurate documentation; reliable witness testimony; official military, intelligence, scientific investigative endeavours; formulation of strict and precise first-contact protocols; officially sanctioned group formation for the  discussion of sightings; procedures for how to recover future crashed UFOs, where to ship the parts, and how to deal with the occupants; as well as public information access management will help us add to our capability to deal with any future potential external intrusions into our nation’s airspace and unauthorized breaching of our nation’ boarders.

End Report

Points Of Interest

It is unfortunate that the picture quality of Phantom From Space is rather faded. It is a bit like watching the televised picture of the first moon-landing. At least it’s the right way up! Hopefully, a digital remastering process can be used to clean and restore the film to an acceptable viewing standard. Still, it’s worth persisting with if you haven’t seen it before.

Hazen & Bowers

The narration at the start of the film, Phantom From Space, is typical for such films of the era. However, it does serve to add to the sense of urgency and suspense of the film, as well as providing a hook with its ticking off the code warnings, the craft’s inexorable progress, the time readings, height, distance, course and speed.

The first half of Phantom From Space is rather dull with the film getting off to a slow start with "Mobile 1" and "Mobile 7" roaming around and trying to pinpoint the location of a mysterious signal that's blocking communications. There is also so much running around in pursuit of the alien during the course of the film that it seems like we are watching a Keystone Cops’ film strip.

As a low-budget 1950's sci-fi film, the special effects are what you would expect to find. The invisibility effects remind us of the Invisible Man. It is almost as if Topper goes sci-fi! The ending contains a rather good effect that allows us to finally see the alien. It reminded me a bit of what you might've seen in an early Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode.

The ending of Phantom From Space also reminded me of the ending of King Kong when Kong swipes at the attacking planes from the top of the Empire State Building. Perhaps both characters’ predicaments are similar and their respective endings just as tragic?

Alien Visitor Revealed

A lot of disparaging remarks could be made about the alien’s suit. However, it did serve as a simple device to make the alien appear more menacing, weird and unearthly than he actually was.

Dr. Wyatt 

Maj. Andrews

Unlike many films from the 1950s, the female main character, Barbara Randall, was quite composed when confronted by the alien in the lab. There was no attempt to depict a hysterical or fainting woman which was at the time a common portrayal of female characters when confronted with terrifying events.

Barbara Randall 

Also unlike some of the sci-fi films of the era, we see in this film that an alien being is the victim of the earth's environment and of a misunderstanding. It is not the earth and its inhabitants that are being intentionally threatened by the alien's advanced technology. The alien had no intention to do the people of earth any harm. It is portrayed as being a misunderstood and sympathetic character that was simply stranded on earth and needed help. It is instructive to note that if we treat and view newcomers to our shores, whether they be asylum seekers, refugees or immigrants, in a less than humane manner, then one would have to wonder what kind of reception would a newcomer to our world receive?

The suspense of the film lies in the fact that for a large part of the time we are kept guessing about the motive of the alien: Did he intend to kill the two people? Was it an accident? Were they killed in self-defence? By the end of the film we discover that he was from a more technologically advanced race, but one which does not need to resort to violence merely in order to subjugate less advanced species.

And so, what will happen when we eventually make first contact with an alien species? How much will misunderstanding or miscommunication play a part in trying to establish a relationship between our different species? What will be the consequences of such a contact and for whom? How much, if anything will those not in authority or not a part of the politico-military & security establishment be permitted to know?

Assume nothing but expect anything!!!

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Magnetic Monster (1953)

Intelligent & well-paced
Plausible-sounding science
Builds up to an excellent climax

Director: Curt Siodmak, Herbert L. Strock
Producer: Ivan Tors, George Van Marter
Writer: Curt Siodmak, Ivan Tors
Narrator: Richard Carlson
Music: Blaine Sanford
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Editing: Herbert L. Strock
Distributor: United Artists
Running time: 76 minutes
Budget: $105,000 approx.


Richard Carlson: Dr. Jeffrey Stewart
King Donovan: Dr. Dan Forbes
Jean Byron: Connie Stewart
Harry Ellerbe:  Dr. Allard
Leo Britt: Dr. Benton
Leonard Mudie: Howard Denker
Byron Foulger: Mr. Simon
Michael Fox: Dr. Serny
John Zaremba: Chief Watson
Lee Phelps: City Engineer
Watson Downs: Mayor
Roy Engel: Gen. Behan
Frank Gerstle: Colonel Willis
John Vosper: Captain Dyer
John Dodsworth: Dr. Carthwright
Robert Carson: the Pilot
Donald Kerr:  Nova Scotia Lab Worker 


Please note: Spoilers are contained in the following;

Office of Scientific Investigation
Official Summary Report
Operation: “Magnetic Monster”


Background To Investigation

  • On the morning of July 18, 1953, ‘A-Man’ agents, Jeffrey Stewart and Dan Forbes received a report from the power company representative, Chief Watson as part of a DIRECTIVE 149 response, concerning a local hardware store where all of the clocks had stopped at the same time.
  • Investigation revealed that a strong magnetic field had magnetized every metal item in the store and that the source of this was traced to an office above the store.
  • An examination of the room revealed the presence of scientific equipment, as well as a dead body.
  • Detection of radioactivity was confirmed, the cause of which was not immediately apparent.
  • Initial fears centred on the possibility of someone trying to build a small atomic bomb.
  • Further investigation based on information received from a taxi driver and an examination of airport facilities led investigators to an airline flight carrying a research physicist, Dr. Howard Denker and more importantly, to the contents of his suitcase.
  • Dr. Denker had developed signs of radiation sickness due to an artificial radioactive isotope, serranium, which in an experiment he had bombarded with alpha particles for 200 hours. This deadly microscopic product of his experiment was contained in the suitcase in his possession.
  • Dr. Denker died from radiation sickness on board the plane while passing on information to the agents about his creation.

Nature of Emergency

  • Based on the findings fed into the MANIAC system, it was able to deduce that the element would double in size and mass every 11 hours by absorbing energy from its surroundings.
  • The process of transformation released deadly radiation and extremely intense magnetic energy.

Danger Posed: Extreme

  • OSI determined that, if left unchecked, the element would have eventually become large enough to affect the Earth's rotation and cause the planet to spin out of its orbit.

Course Of Action

  • The isotope could not be destroyed or rendered inert by any known means.
  • It was decided there was no option but to use a Canadian experimental power generator then being constructed in a cavern under the ocean. It was intended to use this to bombard the element with as much energy as possible in one surge in the hope that this would neutralize it.  
  • With US and Canadian government cooperation, the isotope was transferred to the new (“Deltatron”) project facility.
  • Dr. Benton, in charge of the project, when shown how much energy would be needed, raised objections and voiced concerns about the safety of the personnel involved.
  • Due to the urgency of the situation, Agent Stewart took it upon his own authority to assume control of the experiment himself despite the risks to his personal safety.
  • Despite Dr. Benton’s efforst to thwart him, Agent Stewart was able to activate the machine and seal the device off from the rest of the underground operation and the project workers. 


  • The isotope was successfully stopped.
  • Deltatron was destroyed as a result of the operation.

End Notes:

  • A full report of the above operation will follow at the conclusion of OSI internal investigation of operation, Magnetic Monster.  
  • As part of the report, the following items will be included;

  1. Recommendations of ways & means to meet such future challenges to our existence.
  2. Elimination of opportunities for “lone wolves” to conduct nuclear research.
  3. Managing the dissemination of information to the public via media outlets.
  4. Commendations for those who took part in the success of operation, Magnetic Monster.

End Summary Report

Points of Interest

The main character, Jeffery Stewart narrates the story in a manner similar to a detective-crime genre film complete with lines like, “July 18: The morning quiet,…peaceful…The world seemed safe and good.” We also learn with due seriousness that in order to combat threats that pose a “challenge to our existence,” a new agency has been created, The Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI). As if taken from the pages of the creation of the FBI, the men who work for this agency are known as A men, who perform as “detectives of science,” something akin to J. Edgar Hoover’s G-Men.

In the case of the FBI’s formation, science in the form of forensics became the key weapon in the fight against crime. Science is also the weapon of choice for the OSI in the film, Magnetic Monster. For instance, we see many examples of gadgetry being employed such as an electronic counter to determine that there were “2200 disintegrations per minute” occurring as well as traces of radioactive dust. There were gadgets to monitor the speed and distance of particles and to examine dust particles and fingernail scrapings. An electronic microscope was used to examine the element whereby the investigators could see that it was “adding new structure to the old,” that “mass is forming into supposedly empty space” and that with this tool of science they were “witnessing the secret of creation.”

The silence that followed the last statement above was laden with profound implications. At what point does science cross over into areas where some people believe it should not and cannot cross. The name given to this new breed of investigators is A-Men which as we are told by the narrator, “sounds like the final word of a prayer.” Perhaps it is no wonder that people sometimes worry that materialistic science seems to assume the mantle of a new kind of religion. After all, the world and what seems to be inexplicable appears to be able to be explained by the new religion of science and its own version of the priesthood. In the face of the hysterical and panicked reactions of those in the hardware store, we have the calm and methodical resort to paper, tacks, fishing poles and Geiger counters to locate the epicentre of magnetic force in the store. In days gone by people would have been reassured by the priesthood that certain inexplicable occurrences were part of God’s will or the result of the Devil’s work, often resulting in the immolation of innocent people to rectify the perceived problems.

In the area of science, there is a certain unease of the times being reflected in the film, Magnetic Monster. After all, it was scientific research that produced an element that even in the initial stages resulted in the production of radiation that was “strong enough to kill us or wipe out a few city blocks.” Whether done independently or not, science had created something new that “turned out to be unstable,” that was “monstrous” and capable of “reaching out with invisible fingers” to kill! If only such research was removed from the hands of “lone wolves” and placed in the all-knowing secure embrace of government scientific centralised control!-at least as implied in the film. Similarly, once upon a time all knowledge about the world remained securely within the province of the church and its priesthood. “Lone wolves” and the threat posed by the spreading fingers of their devil’s work were dealt with using the tried and tested tools of the time.

The unease of the times is further highlighted by the fact that the element created by Dr. Denker appears to be as Forbes exclaims, “a live thing!” If it is not “fed” it draws on available energy and causes an implosion. Even the plan to destroy the element involves an attempt to “overfeed it until it bursts.” Instead of the usual monsters from space, the ocean depths or from under the ice, we have an impersonal, apparently indestructible and unseen monster. For many, the products of science and technology seem to take on a life of their own, growing more powerful, demanding more and more from us, reaching out and infiltrating all aspects of our lives and even threatening our own existence.

In Magnetic Monster and many other similar films of the time, it seems as if it is felt that people’s fears and concerns can be assuaged by controlling how much and what type of information they are to be exposed to. In the film, the city is put on alert but people are informed via radio broadcasts only that the authorities are “conducting a test.” Even today we find ourselves grappling with issues of freedom of information and are left wondering how much information is being withheld from the public about matters that effect all of us; how truthful the information is that we are being presented with and whether or not matters of “national security” should override our need or right to know the truth. Such matters are curently being put to the test in relation to the controversial treatment of organisations like Wikileaks and individuals such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. For some people and governments, they are seen as traitors, while for others they are simply upholding the principles of free speech and the right to know, as well as performing the kind of role that the world’s media ought to be performing. One can only hope that we don’t have recourse to the kind of witch hunts that were prevalent at the time of the making of Magnetic Monster.

Magnetic Monster was shot in eleven days. Footage from a clip of an atom smasher from the 1934 German film, Gold was used in the scene of the Nova Scotia Deltatron. It seems to have been quite a seamless fusion of the footage in the film. The "M.A.N.I.A.C." computer with the “cathode ray memory unit” consisted of footage featuring a computer being developed at the University of California in Los Angeles. Glad to see scientists and technicians (film makers?) have a sense of humour and irony!

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Not a masterpiece, but a classic of its genre that stands the test of time.

Director:  Eugène Lourié
Producer: Jack Dietz; Hal E. Chester
Writer:  Ray Bradbury (story)
Screenplay:  Fred Freiberger; Eugène Lourié; Louis Morheim; Robert Smith
Inspired by:  The Fog Horn 1951
Music:  David Buttolph
Cinematography:  Jack Russell
Visual effects:   Ray Harryhausen.
Editing:  Bernard W. Burton
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running time: 80 minutes
Budget:  $210,000
Box office:  $5,000,000


Paul Christian:  (Professor Tom Nesbitt)
Paula Raymond:  (Lee Hunter)
Cecil Kellaway:  (Dr. Thurgood Elson)
Kenneth Tobey:   (Colonel Jack Evans)
Donald Woods:   (Captain Phil Jackson)
Ross Elliott:  (George Ritchie)
Steve Brodie:  (Sgt. Loomis)
Jack Pennick: (Jacob Bowman)
Michael Fox:  (ER Doctor)
Lee Van Cleef:   (Corporal Jason Stone)
Frank Ferguson:  (Dr. Morton)
King Donovan:  (Dr. Ingersoll)
James Best: (Charlie, Radar Man)


An experimental atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle!

A hibernating dinosaur unfrozen and unleashed upon the world!

Death and destruction in New York City!

Will ancient wrath re-awaken to wreak havoc and spell doom for our world?


(Warning: Spoilers lurk beyond this point!)

The film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, starts off north of the Arctic Circle, during a nuclear bomb test called, ‘Operation Experiment.’ The tension is almost palpable as the narrator informs us that “there can be no margin for error” while the countdown proceeds inexorably from ‘H’ minus 56 seconds, 52 seconds and so on. Almost in answer to physicist Thomas Nesbitt’s reflections about "What the cumulative effects of all these atomic explosions and tests will be, only time will tell", the nuclear explosion thaws out and unleashes a 10-metre tall, 30-metre long hibernating carnivorous creature called a Rhedosaurus. The creature had been locked in the ice for 100 million years. The observation that “this test will add to our knowledge” is called into question by what follows.

Tom Nesbitt witnessed The Beast’s awakening, but he is dismissed as being delirious and is put through a “psychiatric interrogation” where it is determined that his mind has “lost contact with reality.”

The Beast, meanwhile, travels down the east coast of North America and having gotten out of the wrong side of the bed after 100 million years, proceeds to sink fishing vessels, demolishes a lighthouse and vents his spleen on various buildings in Massachusetts. Despite The Beast doing all it can to advertise its existence, the reports of its presence is treated in a frivolous manner by the media with such headlines as “Sea Serpent Reported off Grand Banks,” as well as by the public as voiced by Nesbitt’s nurse who believes such reports belong on the “comics page.”

One of the fishermen who survived becoming an hors d'oeuvre for The Beast, identifies the same creature as Nesbitt saw from a collection of drawings. This fisherman had also been traumatised by the encounter with The Beast and was called crazy. Nesbitt finally gains the support of palaeontologist Thurgood Elson and his assistant, Lee Hunter.

Elson, now a convert to the idea of The Beast’s existence (“What makes you sure there are no flying saucers?”), firmly believes the Beast is returning to the Hudson River area where fossils of Rhedosaurus were first found. The plucky professor insists on venturing into the undersea Hudson River Canyon in a diving bell in search of The Beast. Elson seems to be completely oblivious to the danger he is about to face. He is only interested in the benefits to science. After all, according to him, “we’re scientists, it’s our job.” Unfortunately, the long delayed holiday plans of Professor Elson are permanently curtailed when he is killed by The Beast which promptly swallows Elson, the bathysphere’s operator and the bathysphere itself. . Well, I suppose 100 million years of hibernation would make anyone ravenous! You have to admire the professor as he continues to give a rundown of the creature’s features (”the dorsal spine is singular, not bi-lateral as we thought”) moments before disappearing down its gullet, “But the most amazing thing is…” Gulp!

In a foul mood, (probably due to a bout of constipation after swallowing the bathysphere) The Beast comes ashore in Manhattan and the extent of his bad temper is proclaimed in a newspaper report of "180 known dead, 1500 injured, damage estimates $300 million". This rampage thoroughly annoys everyone, especially the military who, led by Col. Jack Evans, proceed to zap The Beast with an electrified defensive fence, blast an extra orifice into the beast with a bazooka, pepper it with bullets and drive it back into the sea,  thereby making it clear he is definitely not welcome.

During the creature’s running amok through New York City, we witness people almost trampling over each other to get away. People run headlong past kids with little thought to their safety and even a blind man is knocked to the ground and left to fend for himself. Sometimes The Beast we need to worry most about is the one that resides in each of us which sometimes rears its ugly head under certain circumstances. And so, we are left with New York appearing “like a city besieged” where the heart of the city, Times Square “has stopped beating.” An unwelcome resonance for modern audiences considering recent history!

It turns out that the uninvited guest had the bad manners to bleed all over the place, unleashing a "horrible, virulent" prehistoric germ, contaminating the soldiers who went after it, as well as the general population. Unable to blow The Beast to Kingdom Come or barbecue it, in case such measures spread the contagion, it is decided to kill The Beast by shooting a radioactive isotope into its neck wound in order to burn it up from the inside.

The Beast next has his sights set on Coney Island amusement park. It is now up to military sharpshooter Corporal Stone (a young Lee Van Cleef) to stop The Beast armed with only a rifle grenade loaded with the radioactive isotope and a ton of pressure weighing him down, since the isotope is the only one of its kind outside of Oak Ridge. He has to take the crucial shot by riding a roller coaster to the top of the tracks so that he is eye-level with The Beast.  Stone fires the isotope into The Beast's neck wound resulting in The Beast dramatically meeting his maker amidst the wrecked and blazing ruins of the park. We can only hope that Corporal Stone won a prize at Coney Island Amusement park for scoring a bullseye!

Points of Interest

The scene depicting The Beast destroying a lighthouse had its origins in The Fog Horn short story of 1951. Notice too how The Beast seems to look far more impressive or dramatic when shown in silhouette or in a darker setting in the film. 

As can see above, The Beast from 20.000 Fathoms had a production budget of $210,000 and ultimately grossed over $5 million. This was a pretty good return on the investment and a testament to the film’s popularity at the time. The film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.

You will have noticed the scene where Professor Nesbitt attempts to identify the Rhedosaurus by examining the dinosaur drawings of Charles R. Knight. In my post A Tribute To Ray Harryhausen, a reference is made to Charles R. Knight who inspired Harryhausen and who died in 1953, the same year The Beast from 20.000 Fathoms was released.

The climactic roller coaster scenes were a product of special effects genius, Ray Harryhausen who combined the live action of the actors and coaster background footage from The Pike parking lot in Long Beach California with the stop-motion action of The Beast destroying a model of the roller coaster.

Ray Harryhausen made effective use of “plate photography” of actual locations such as footage of New York streets projected behind a tabletop miniature where Harryhausen animated the armature puppet of the Beast, one frame at a time. The effect is of a quite realistic-looking huge monster moving through the streets. The scale of the Beast is emphasized by the low angle shots of it as it strides forward. Compare the movements of this creature with similar examples from other films such “Unknown island” 1948, and you’ll see what a leap in such technology was made by Harryhausen.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ushered in the era of films featuring grumpy giant monsters being rudely awakened by inconsiderate human beings detonating atomic bombs and who then proceed to exact revenge on humanity by levelling its cities. It’s a bit like being woken up early on a Sunday morning by some fool mowing their lawn. So, if you enjoy giant monster films (whether it’s Godzilla from 1954 or Cloverfield from 2008), then take some time out and give some thought to the legacy of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, with its use of H-Bomb testing, reflects or stands as a metaphor for the fears of the time when people had genuine concerns about the Bomb’s potential for the first time in human history, to bring about the end of human civilisation. Every era has its own set of fears and concerns and only a small leap has to be made to having similar films reflecting our own current fears and preoccupation with threats to our way of life from terrorism. The perceived monsters may vary, but the themes remain strikingly similar.

The characters in the film are largely forgettable, despite their adequate performances. For me only two characters stand out. The first is Dr. Thurgood Elson, played by Cecil Kellaway. Kellaway seemed to be made for such academic / professor type roles that call for a kindly, absent-minded but brilliant character. You just can’t help liking him. The second is The Beast itself which manages to capture our attention with its personality and even though it appears to be destructive and frightening, it does nevertheless evoke our sympathy, especially at the end of the film when it collapses and dies. After all, it didn't ask to be placed in this situation. It was merely driven by its primitive instincts impelling it to head for its ancient breeding grounds which happen to be occupied by New York City!

I have certainly had fun watching and writing about this particular film and I hope you will have fun watching it too! Enjoy!

©Chris Christopoulos 2013