Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival

It's safe to say that I fell in love with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) at last weekend's Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival. What a delightful movie!

This 80-minute film, showcasing the work of Ray Harryhausen, was pretty much a perfect '50s sci-fi film. It reached its most sublime point when the young Lee Van Cleef (below) showed up in the final moments as an army sharpshooter who has just one chance to save New York by shooting a radioactive isotope at the fearsome beast -- from atop a flaming roller coaster! Talk about off the charts fun and creativity -- and so great seeing it with an appreciative audience!

Paul Christian (aka Paul Hubschmid) stars as Professor Tom Nesbitt, who sees a giant monster at the Arctic Circle following a nuclear test. Nesbitt survives a monster-caused avalanche and is sent to New York for treatment. Naturally, his doctor (Frank Ferguson) and everyone else thinks the professor's claims of seeing a giant monster are the result of severe stress, as he'd just witnessed a colleague's death in the avalanche.

Tom tries to convince the world's foremost paleontologist, Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), to investigate but Elson's initially a skeptic. The professor's lovely assistant Lee (Paula Raymond of THE TALL TARGET) is more open-minded and shows Tom a huge collection of drawings of dinosaurs, and Tom picks out a "Rhedosaurus" as a match for what he'd seen at the Arctic.

Meanwhile strange things are happening up and down the coast, from the Arctic to Massachusetts, including boats being sunk and a lighthouse crushed. The survivor of one of the boat wrecks (Jack Pennick, one of John's Ford's regulars) picks out the very same Rhedosaurus "mug shot" that Tom had chosen, and we're off to the races to find the creature.

Everything works in this film, from a pretty good, logical script, based on a story by Ray Bradbury, to the solid cast, to the amazing work by Harryhausen. Incidentally, I had no idea before last weekend that Bradbury and Harryhausen were lifelong friends.

The movie includes a great tour of the Warner Bros. backlot streets and also features the roller coaster at Pacific Ocean Park, which was also seen in the climaxes of WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) and MAN IN THE DARK (1953). The movie's got a little bit of everything -- even an appearance by the world's busiest dress extra, Bess Flowers, sitting behind Tom and Lee at the ballet!

It's worth noting that while it might have been a fun monster movie which made me smile, I also found it moving when the monster invades New York City and the policemen and soldiers run towards the monster while everyone else flees; one determined cop shoots ineffectually at the creature with his pistol. In this post 9/11 world, it's touching to be reminded of the valor of good men, even if they're fighting a mythical Rhedosaurus!

Like many '50s sci-fi films, the cast might not have featured first-rank stars, but they were all very competent. I was unfamiliar with Paul Christian and thought he did fine in the lead. He's backed by the ever-reliable Kenneth Tobey of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), playing one of the military men involved in the hunt.

King Donovan, whom I'd seen earlier in the day as Jack in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), here plays Dr. Ingersoll. The cast also includes Donald Woods, Steve Brodie, Ross Elliott, and James Best, plus the unmistakeable voice of Merv Griffin on the radio.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS was directed by Eugene Lourie and shot by John L. Russell. The strong score was by David Buttolph.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is available on DVD and also in a brand-new four-film new Blu-ray classic sci-fi collection.

Highly recommended.

4 Comments:

Blogger James Corry said...

Well Laura, we'll make a science-fiction fan out of you yet! Am REALLY looking forward to your take/review of "The Incredible Shrinking Man"........

"Beast From....." is a wonderful film. So glad you enjoyed it!!

Brad

9:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Brad!

LOL. I am definitely surprising some people, as John K. commented elsewhere. It's wonderful to have "new frontiers" to discover -- although I don't expect I'll ever make it to Hammer horror films, John!

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN has many admirers here so it might be good to mention at this point that it was the film I appreciated, but it didn't grab me the way the others did. It was basically a tragedy, which left me drained and exhausted! More on that in the next day or two.

On the other hand, I also really loved THEM! (great cast and use of L.A.) and I absolutely adored THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, with its Hawksian camaraderie and great dialogue and interplay. That is one I suspect I'll rewatch regularly. I hope to have posts up on all three films before the coming weekend is over if I can fit them all in!

Thanks for reading!

Best wishes,
Laura

10:35 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Another one I like a lot and glad to see you enjoyed this much (along with the others you mentioned in the comment above). Love Harryhausen's creations and always in awe of how much work went into them!

ouch, no Hammer horror... ever? :(
just kidding

11:12 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Can't wait!!

11:18 AM  

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