Blogger photog and I decided to swap posts this Friday as a bit of cross-promotion for our sites. photog is a multi-talented man—a writer, a photographer, and a reviewer—and he possesses a real knack for writing great movie reviews.
So when he asked me what he should write about, I proposed something related to science-fiction, a genre he knows well. I was thrilled when he came up with a review of an Atomic Age gem, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, from 1953. The film was apparently a major influence on the Godzilla films, and spawned a number of “creature features” in the 1950s.
You can read more of photog’s reviews, as well as his political writing, at www.orionscoldfire.com. It’s worth checking out!
With that, here is photog’s review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms:
This 1953 movie is the grandaddy of all the atomic monster movies. The next year saw the appearance of “Them,” the giant atomic ants and Godzilla which really was a sort of knock off of the “Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.” At least theoretically this movie is based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “Fog Horn.” But other than the one scene where the Beast attacks a lighthouse there isn’t anything in the story that informs the plot of the movie.
So, this is the story of an arctic atom bomb test that predictably thaws out an amphibious dinosaur. After killing one member of the military team via avalanche the beast heads south to re-enter his old stomping grounds in the Hudson River undersea canyon. On the way it capsizes a couple of Canadian fishing ships, demolishes a Maine lighthouse and flattens a Bay Stater walking along the shore of Massachusetts. Well, for that one you really can’t blame him. I’m sure the guy had it coming.
And as these movies usually go, the military gets in touch with an academic expert on dinosaurs who is always an old man with a funny accent who always has a somewhat attractive young woman working as his assistant. The military provides the old professor with access to a bathysphere and the scientist descends into the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the Hudson River and is promptly eaten (or something) by the beast.
Now the protagonist (a French scientist who was somehow associated with the US Army’s arctic A-bomb test) rallies the military and leads the effort to destroy the monster as it rampages through lower Manhattan. Early on it eats one of New York’s Finest in the person of a cop who attempts to take down the giant reptile with his service revolver. Then the beast goes on a stroll down Broadway and crushes various cars and small buildings. Finally, the Army moves in some bazookas and draws blood from the beast by blowing a hole in its neck. But, wouldn’t you know it, its blood is full of virulent germs that have the soldiers keeling over after only minutes.
Fearing that explosives would start a plague the French guy proposes that a radioactive projectile be shot into the wound on the beast’s neck and thereby kill him without spreading his germs. After swimming back into New York Harbor, the beast resurfaces at Manhattan Beach (which is in South Brooklyn) and the beast heads straight for Coney Island and begins destroying the Cyclone, the big rickety wooden roller coaster at the famous amusement park there.
The French guy and an army marksman don radiation suits and take a roller coaster ride to the top of the coaster’s highest hill in order to have a clear shot at the beast’s neck. From that vantage point the marksman hits the bullseye and then they clamor down the side of the coaster before the beast’s death throes bury them in the rubble of the demolished ride. Of course, the wooden ride bursts into flames proving just what a death trap it really is. But by then the beast is dying and as we watch he breathes his last. French guy and somewhat pretty paleontologist are now free to explore the romantic relationship that almost always await the survivors of atomic monster incidents.
This is one of my favorite old monster movies because New York is my old stomping grounds. In fact, the beach in Brooklyn (Manhattan Beach) where the beast resurfaces was where I first met Camera Girl forty-five years ago. So, we have that in common. There weren’t a lot of famous actors in this movie but the special effects were handled by Ray Harryhausen and the sharpshooter was played by Lee Van Cleef of spaghetti western fame. Now there isn’t any detectable acting going on except for the old professor played by veteran actor Cecil Kellaway. But it combines the gung-ho attitude of all military movies before the Vietnam war era along with the silly mayhem expected when giant monsters are eating and stepping on people. I highly recommend this silly romp but warn millennials that it was shot in black and white (the horror!).