Take a look through the credits of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and you come across the rather splendid ‘Suggested by the sensational Saturday Evening Post’. True, newspapers birthing films based on articles is nothing new. Heck, The New York Times drops a sprog every couple of weeks it seems. In this case, it was a short fiction story that gave inspiration to the movie’s script writers, which again, is nothing new. What’s odd about this is that the newspaper gets a credit before the stories’ writer, a one Mr Ray Bradbury. Further down those credits is another Ray, perhaps now even more synonymous with the genre, a one Mr Ray Harryhausen.
Rudely awoken from blissful slumber by bomb testing in the Arctic Circle, a giant Rhedosaurus (not a real dinosaur, FYI) takes a gentle amble down south casually destroying everything in his or her path. Which, let’s face it, is how we all feel when the alarm goes off on Monday morning.
Plot-wise, this is where Bradbury’s genius leaves us and passes the baton on to Harryhausen to make the damn thing work.
It’s fair to place Harryhausen front and centre of the piece as, let’s face it, no one watches this particular arm of cinema with a hard eye on the script or even the direction. The cast are serviceable but ultimately forgettable, serving up trite dialogue that forms more of a narration on the creatures’ whereabouts than anything. A strange sort of Michael Palin travelogue, if you will, just with more destruction and a lot less affability. The direction sits in that odd middling area of ‘just graduated from B-movie directors school’, but keeps the plot plodding along at a pace mirroring its star. Its star being the thing we are all here to see and what a beautifully ugly thing of wonder it is.
There are endless books and documentaries on the subject of Harryhausen’s work for this writer to spend too much time waxing lyrical about his genius, but it needs to be said that without him, this film would have been consigned to the mists of time and unlike our Rhedosaur friend, never to awake. There is an almost loving amount of detail in the monster, all of which pops in this new transfer to Blu-ray. Harryhausen’s signature stop-motion effects imbue the monster with a realism that Godzilla’s man in a suit never could. It’s reputed that this was the inspiration for that granddaddy of monster flicks, but given that Godzilla arrived only 16 months later, this seems unlikely.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms provides an ample, if not slightly stodgy, slice of B-movie pie that’s improved by the sprinkling of Harryhausen’s cream on top. A forerunner to Godzilla it may be, but there’s a reason only one of the two spawned what seems like a thousand sequels. Perhaps Rhedosaurus should’ve just hit the snooze button instead.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: EUGÈNE LOURIÉ / SCREENPLAY: LOU MORHEIM, FRED FREIBERGER / STARRING: PAUL HUBSCHMID, PAULA RAYMOND, CECIL KELLAWAY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HMV EXCLUSIVE)