Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Out Of Primordial Depths To Destroy The World!

It Came From Beneath The Sea(1955)
Director: Robert Gordon
Cast: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis

Here we go again. Another monster is disturbed by our peskt atomic testing and awakens from the depths of the ocean in a pissed off quest to destroy the world! Never before has the screen seen a more angry octopus. He just attacks whomever he wants, whenever he wants, leaving wanton destruction in it's path. Even though the protagonists claim that he is searching for food, the smug expression on his pus(pun intended) makes one wonder. Just watch as he levels the Golden Gate bridge and slams his tentacles all through the Bay Area of San Francisco. Credit has to be given to Ray Harryhausen for his super duper special effects, which can make even the most modest and cliche of monster movies, indelible.

The film follows a submarine commander, Pete Matthews(Kenneth Tobey) who is commanding a new atomic powered sub, when he encounters something strange. Capturing a piece of whatever it was that tugged his sub(that didn't sound right) he takes it to some scientists, Prof. Lesley Joyce(Faith Domergue) and Dr. John Carter(not of Mars), played by Doanld Curtis. They reason that it came from a giant octopus, which the military scoff at. Matthews does not and takes interest in the project, partly propelled by his interest in Lesley, who brings an interesting feminist angle to the picture. Between romancing, they soon discover that a ship has been sunk by the octopus(in a nightmarish sequence) and the survivors all claim it to be what was initially percieved to be. Soon the military are patrolling the waters, dropping charges and mines, but to no avail. Instead, the octopus gets irritated and attacks the Golden Gate bridge, especially when some dolt leaves on a high current of electricity which burns the octopus and makes him practically bring the bridge down! Not finished with destruction, he attacks the bay area, while an evacuation is under way and it's one of the great monster movie sequences of the 1950s. The tentacles destroy everything in their path, smashing through shop windows, toppling towers and crushing civilians(in very gruesome fashion) until the military show up with practically any monster's worst enemy: flamethrowers.
Chases back into the sea, Matthews and Carter go into a sub with a new weapon designed to pierce and explode within the creature. Matthews takes the initiative and goes in first, but is knocked unconscious by an underwater explosion, leaving the scientist to go it alone, shooting It in the eye and swimming away with Matthews as the sub rigs the explosion and It gets blown to pieces.

Like many monster movies from the 1950s, this borrows heavily from Them!(1954) in it's depiction of a coalition between military and scientific forces and it's structure as a mystery. The octopus does not make an appearance until nearly a half an hour in, much like in the earlier film and it's a mark left by the monster(in this case a tentacle mark on the beach, rather than an ant print) that makes the heroes aware of the monster's appearance.
Despite a low budget, which was so low that Harryhausen only animated six tentacles on the octopus, the effects are phenomenal and it's always an entertaining picture to enjoy. The standout sequences, including the famous attack on Golden Gate and It's destuction of a ship at sea, are among the best moments in any monster movie. Harryhausen shows his mastery and hints at better things to come, particularly with his mythological pictures in the latter part of the decade and into the 60s.
The picture's main problem lies in the obtrusive Dragnet-like narration, which detracts from the suspense and seems jarring and out of place. This problem was apparent in a few 50s flicks, including Earth vs. the Flying Saucers(1956), which insisted on the boring narration for whatever reason. It dosen't cripple the picture, but it dosen't help much either.

The cast perform well, particularly Kenneth Tobey, who was the 1950s science fiction film's best leading man. Despite some hilariously sexist dialouge(God bless the 50s) Tobey rises above the material to create a likeable and dimensional character, depicting the intelligence and dedication that was missing from too many similarly written characters. Nothing beats his Captain Hendry from The Thing(1951), but this is a good part, nonetheless. Likewise, Domergue is typically beautiful and handles her part well, and the added feminist angle is refreshing, providing a nice contrast to Tobey's more old-fashioned character, though both develop respect and admiration for each other by film's end. Domergue was another staple in 50s sci-fi, probably best known for being fondled by the Metaluna mutant in This Island Earth(1955) or her seductive performance in Cult of the Cobra(1955).

It Came From Beneath The Sea is not one of the great monster movies of the 50s, but it's an entertaining and pleasant enough diversion that should cause a splash with b-movie buffs and Harryhausen devotees, to which i'm sure, are all of you that frequent this blog. It was recently colorized, along with Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers(1956) and 20,000,000 Miles to Earth(1957), for those that are curious. This reviewer still prefers it in glorious black and white.

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