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