Friday, October 12, 2012

Tonight's Movie: It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

Over the last couple years I've gradually been overcoming my lifelong aversion to sci-fiction films by watching some of the classics of the genre. In 2011 I saw both WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), followed this year by IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956).

On this Friday evening I delved into '50s sci-fi once more by watching IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), a Ray Harryhausen film which I found quite entertaining. I particularly liked the film's storytelling balance between its strong leads and the science fiction/special effects aspect; there was room for interesting characters along with the giant octopus.

Submarine Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) is as baffled as anyone when his submarine tangles with a giant sea monster while on a shakedown cruise off the West Coast of the United States.

Scientists Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) determine that the creature was some form of octopus. Although initially the military brass are dubious of the scientists' work, the creature soon terrorizes residents of Oregon and California, particularly San Francisco. The race is on to find a way to kill the giant octopus once and for all.

The climactic battle against the sea monster is very well done, as its tentacles destroy the Golden Gate Bridge and then reach into San Francisco, toppling buildings and threatening to destroy the city. Though primitive by modern standards, the effects remain very effective, particularly during the final confrontation between submarine and octopus. In a number of the San Francisco scenes people fall down as they're running away, a touch right out of scary nightmares. I especially loved the courageous army men using flame throwers to chase the octopus back into the sea!

For me the most interesting aspect of the film was Faith Domergue's very liberated character, who is devoted to her career and also enjoys being wooed by both Tobey and Curtis. When Tobey rather arrogantly thinks she'll change some of her career plans after he sweeps her off her feet with a romantic evening, he's got a surprise coming! She also insists on staying around to help as the monster approaches San Francisco, rather than being sent to safety.

I believe I've only seen Domergue previously in ESCORT WEST (1958); it's a little Western I liked a lot, but Domergue was outshone in that one by Elaine Stewart as her more likeable sister. Domergue's credits also included the film noir classic WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950) and the sci-fi title THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). During the '50s she was married to director Hugo Fregonese.

Kenneth Tobey is an actor about whom I know even less than Domergue, which is interesting given that he had over 200 film and TV credits! His sci-fi roles included THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953). He's quite interesting in this, a little overly confident in his approach to Domergue, as well as old-fashioned in his approach to her career and abilities, yet he's also a man you want to have commanding a submarine when it goes up against a giant octopus! He's quick-thinking and doesn't hesitate to put his own life on the line.

When I saw Donald Curtis, I was amused to suddenly realize that he played the doctor who treats Tootie after her Halloween hijinks in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). I just saw him last week in the large cast of THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1954). Curtis's career spanned over a quarter-century, with over 100 screen credits. In IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA he's interesting as a man who's forward-thinking in his appreciation of women's roles; he seems to have some romantic interest in his colleague Domergue, yet is sanguine when she is courted by Tobey. Curtis also has two of the most heroic moments in the film, racing onto the imperiled Golden Gate Bridge and later saving Tobey's life in an underwater battle with the octopus.

This movie was directed by Robert Gordon. The cinematographer was Henry Freulich. The film's supporting cast includes Ian Keith, Chuck Griffiths, Harry Lauter, and Tol Avery. It runs 79 minutes.

I watched a beautiful widescreen print recorded from Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.

The movie has also been released on DVD numerous times; potential buyers should exercise caution as some DVD releases of this black and white film were colorized. It can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

12 Comments:

Blogger Vienna said...

Laura, you have a treat in store if you catch up with Kenneth Tobey in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.Howard Hawks was heavily involved with this film and it shows. Definitely the best role Kenneth Tobey ever had.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Raquelle said...

I'm glad you are exploring a new-to-you genre. I am still too weary of trying these sci-fi flicks but maybe one day!

7:38 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Much as I love almost sll movies, horror and sci-fi are my real, prime meat. I love IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, and Ray Harryhausen's great effects. By the way, the giant "octopus" is actually a "sexapus" since it has only 6 tentacles. Harryhausen always joked that they couldn't afford two more.
Kenneth Tobey is a personal favorite of mine, and, as Vienna posted, his best role is in Hawks' THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, which is also my choice for all-around best s-f from the '50s.
For a funny scene from Tobey (and probably the scene that got him the THING role) catch his hilarious bit in Hawks' I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Jeff Flugel said...

Hi, Laura! Fun review, and good for you for the continued attempts to try and get into a genre you're less fond of. Like Rick, monster movies are my bag, but I can relate to having certain genres that leave one cold. For me, that would be musicals and 50s weepies like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, etc.

I echo the others here, you definitely need to check out the original THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD sometime...it's eerie and suspenseful and features some nice, snappy dialogue in that patented Hawksian overlapping style.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for your comments! Thanks to all the recommendations here, I pulled out my recording of THE THING FOR ANOTHER WORLD and bumped it up higher in the viewing stack (which admittedly is so tall it's in danger of topping over...but what a great problem to have!). I'm curious to know more about Kenneth Tobey's work. Last night I enjoyed watching WHERE DANGER LIVES to become a little more familiar with Faith Domergue.

Rick, I love that the monster is really a "sexapus." LOL! I haven't seen I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE since I was a kid, another for my viewing list!

I appreciate the encouragement from all of you as bit by bit I branch out of my viewing "comfort zone"! Jeff, it's so interesting you don't relate to musicals, because they're what first hooked me on the movies!

Best wishes,
Laura

7:41 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I still haven't seen IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and need to remedy this. I'm not a great sci-fi fan either, yet the 50s was surely a Golden Age for the genre, and over time I have taken deeply to heart many sci-fi films made them, which make up in resourcefulness what they may lack in what would now be considered state of the art special effects--technological advances which havent made for better sci-movies, just bigger and showier ones.

Everyone who has mentioned THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is right, a terrific movie and though Hawks technically produced, helping his editor Christian Nyby to get into DGA, Hawks' hand is all over it and I think most rank it pretty high in his filmography if they include it. There's surely no argument, as already said several times, that it's Kenneth Tobey's best role ever.

But Tobey has some other good roles, even when they are not leads. In addition to the hilarious bit in I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE that he did so well, there's a great role in THE WINGS OF EAGLES (1957, John Ford) as an army rival (and ultimately a friend too) of John Wayne's naval flyer Frank Wead, later a screenwriter. The movie is very moving, certainly sad and in ways genuinely tragic before its moving conclusion, but the early scenes in which Tobey is an important presence are filled with comedy
and very funny.

12:20 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Just a comment about Ray Harryhausen's B&W Columbia films which have been "colorized" (and which you can either choose the colorized version to see or the B&W one by just switching back & forth)I was a REAL skeptic when it came to this. Ray's friend and collegue Arnold Kunert was the driving force behind this decision (Ray has gone on record saying that they actually wanted to shoot these films in color but simply didn't have the budget to do so)and I know Arnold and I told him that I was highly "dubious" of the outcome....Until I saw them. Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Ray himself supervised the colorization of 3 of his films and the results are unbelievable. The colorization technology has progressed to the point where you literally have to see the B&W version to believe that it actually WAS shot in B&W! The ONLY thing that "gives it away" are the fleshtones.....It looks like extremely good Cinecolor. I've gotten to the point where I really enjoy seeing them in color, and I grew up on these films! needless to say I apologized to Arnold! There are some classic films which CRY OUT for color but for whatever reasons were shot in B&W: "The Sea Hawk" "Prince Of Foxes" etc. Well, now the technology exists to do it. Of course, you can colorize a VIDEO, NOT the film itself, so the source material will always be in B&W for purists. I know I might be "tarred-and-feathered" for saying these things; I was adamantly against colorization "changing history" and so forth, but with what they did on Ray's films I became a believer....I'm convinced that, one day, the technology will progress to the point where you literally will NOT be able to tell that the film was ever in B&W at all. They're practically there now. They did an incredible job on these films (and this was several years ago that they were colorized) and my hat is off to them......Give the colorized versions a try and see what you think......

Brad

4:55 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

James, I'm not one for tarring and feathering, especially with someone like you who plainly knows these subjects so well and treasures classical cinema.

Also, you make it clear that before the Harryhausen colorizations you had felt the same way about the colorization process as most of us do.

But let me point out a few things. One--even if they wanted to make them in color, they were made in black and white and their original expressiveness conceived in these terms. And there are some classics using Harryhausen that are in color, especially (I'm betting you agree) Nathan Juran's marvelous THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

I'll admit you haven't persuaded me to look at those movies or any others colorized. Just to stick to the fantasy genre, and what wizards like Harryhausen have done, how about his predecessor Willis O'Brien and KING KONG? It seems to me that's a great film, beautifully shows all the effort that went into it by O'Brien and everyone else involved--and it's tremendously dramatic in black and white and surely would be less so in color.

So would make those decisions and how? I'm one who wants films as they were made and released--even if there were problems. And sometimes those alleged problems are magnified--for example, the so-called "restoration of director's vision" in TOUCH OF EVIL. It's actually dubious and even if it wasn't exactly Welles' own final cut (this one isn't either), the original 1958 release was the best version of the film. That last recut is in so many ways not as good, and very misguided. And by the way, that's another one I'd hate to see colorized.

In your last few lines, there is a thought you offer that I found unsettling even if it's true--that someday the technology will be so advanced that you won't be able to tell a film was colorized. Won't this motivate those who own classic films to take an attitude that they may as well colorize everything, because who wants to see it in black and white?

I want to see it in black and white. Color is not better, not at all, only different. And it was best when there was a choice between the two (one reason movies were so good in the 50s), because then when a film was made in color, the filmmakers worked with it as they worked with black and white and tried to make the use of color artful and interesting. Now everything is in color and most of the time it's just bland.

12:00 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Blake, believe me, I certainly understand your point of view. I felt the same exact way, until I saw these things colorized. According to Arnold, one of the reasons for colorization was purely commercial. To make these films "accesible" to a younger audience which, as demographics have showm will flip right past a B&W picture on their TV set to something, ANYTHING, in color! Now, I won't do this and YOU wouldn't do and neither, I imagine, would anyone else who reads and loves Laura's blog wouldn't do it. But a LOT of people will (Good Lord, if they'll watch an epic like "Ben-Hur" on their iPad, they'll do anything!) And they are younger people, younger audiences and potential viewers and consumers. So, from a business point, I understand their decision. I'm just glad that the technicians were able to do such an incredible job on these pictures instead of something ghastly like what we saw in the early 90's. And yes, you are correct in assuming that, one day, the colorization process will have advanced to the point of where you literally cannot tell if a film was shot in color or in B&W. Some films should NEVER be colorized ("Kane" "The Haunting" "Psycho" and many others), but like I said, some cry out for it and, for whatever reasons, were shot in B&W to begin with (probably budgetary).
If you want to talk about something REALLY scary, I have a friend in the special-effects industry who told me YEARS ago that with the gradual (and, it seems, not-so-gradual)perfection of CGI that one day, "they will be able to make a movie starring John Wayne." And you WON'T be able to tell that it's not John Wayne. Talk about "Brave New World!" Remember too, that colorization can be done to video only, NOT film itslef. And with Harryhausen's B&W Columbia films you can switch back and forth if you so prefer; so you can have the colorized version of the original B&W. That's smart marketing.

Brad

2:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Brad and Blake, I'm really enjoying this discussion which I'm a bit late jumping in to owing to work deadlines. I've always leaned towards Blake's point of view, being a "purist" about having my B&W movies in B&W but I appreciated hearing another point of view from Brad who I know loves "old" films so much. I was especially interested in the background on the colorization decision, Brad, thanks for all that interesting info!

Haven't seen I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE since I was a teen, I love Cary Grant films but that one didn't do much for me at the time I saw it. Obviously it's time for a fresh look!

Best wishes,
Laura

7:11 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Say, Brad, just wanted to say I'm sorry I didn't call you by your right name--a little confusing with the two names but I should have gone by the way you signed it.

I understand you and you understand me too, I know. It's a good discussion to have. It's very much to your credit that you would put out this point of view to consider at a blog where, as you acknowledge, we have a lot of classicists who are kind of purist about their movies and not enamored of the kind of technology that has been coming along.

I don't watch many new movies now. I try not to take an attitude about this, but when you get older you start choosing what to give your time to and I get so much out of seeing the same older ones I've seen many times before, as well as discovering older movies I haven't seen.

And I like them the way they were made. It's true that there are many movies the filmmakers wanted to make in color and a studio would gave them black and white and so that was it. But once that decision was made, whoever made it, the filmmakers worked with the process they were given, and so to me it becomes part of the film they actually did make.

12:32 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

(LOL) I have a kind of "stage name" or "pseudonym" that I use on most film websites: "James A. Corry" which is the name of Jack Warden's character in one of my favorite episodes of "The Twilight Zone" scored by my favorite composer Bernard Herrmann, titled "The Lonely".....my real name is Brad Arrington...now you KNOW!!
I'm with YOU Blake! I've seen exactly THREE (3) new, mainstream movies this year: "The Woman In Black" (which I really liked! It's no "Haunting" or "Changeling" but it's a good old-fashioned ghost story without all the gore "for today's sensibilities")"The Avengers" (which I got a kick out of; just check your brain at the door and have a good time!) and "Prometheus" which I hated. I bought the blu-ray of "The Woman In Black"...I would never buy the other two. BUT, as we know, the home video incarnations of those other two are blockbusters and are flying off the shelves in 3-D, 2-D and what-have-you-D.....THIS is what Arnold and Ray had in mind by colorizing Ray's 3 Columbia B&W pictures. To introduce them to a younger new audience who otherwise wouldn't watch them. True story: several years ago, one of my friend's son came over to my house with his buddy to "watch a good old movie"...so I put on Ray's "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms"..well, IMMEDIATELY this hue-and-cry went up from these two teenagers: "This is in BLACK & WHITE!!" You'd have thought I was forcing them to drink poison or something. Anyway, I yelled back at these two: "SHUT-UP AND WATCH!" Well, they sat back and (of course) when the MONSTER came on, their eyes got about as big around as silver dollars and they ended up loving the picture. But the point is, they would have LEFT if I hadn't intimidated 'em into staying! They just weren't going to sit still for a B&W picture. I think (hope) that they learned something that day. That B&W doesn't automatically mean "old" or "bad"...now as far as the colorization of Ray's pictures I can certainly take it or leave it, the point I was trying to make is that the technicians who did the actual work (under Ray's supervision) did an incredible job. When I first saw a colorized film back in the (I think) early 90's it was all "smeary" and horrible looking with the color "ghosting" all over the place. Not anymore. These colors were rock solid all the way through the pictures. Unbelievable. I mentioned 3 films in my prior posting that I think should NEVER be colorized and out of the 3 that I cited TWO of them HAVE been re-made (oops, excuse me, "re-imagined")and in COLOR and they were TERRIBLE!!!

Brad

11:59 AM  

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