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  Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Nuclear Nuisance
Year: 1953
Director: Eugene Lourié
Stars: Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods, Lee Van Cleef, Steve Brodie, Ross Elliott, Jack Pennick, Ray Hyke, Paula Hill, Michael Fox, Alvin Greenman, Frank Ferguson, King Donovan, James Best
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: There is a highly sensitive operation being conducted by the American military in the Arctic, and every part of it must be timed to the second as atomic bombs are not something to be treated lightly. However, once the device is detonated while it all seems to go as planned, the radar operators monitoring the site notice a mysterious blip on their equipment and call their colonel (Kenneth Tobey) over to have a look. Yet once he gets there, the blip has disappeared, so what could it have been? Was there anything there at all?

You could say that, as this was the movie which started off the giant monster cycle of the nineteen-fifties, so influential that it stretched from the Japanese Godzilla to the next century's Cloverfield, having set out the template so vividly that its imitators were reluctant to mess with a winning formula. Of course the Beast of the title owed something to King Kong, but where that was a romantic take on the style, here was a more businesslike, scientific approach which meant strictly no-nonsense, so there was no chance of the reawakened dinosaur falling for female lead and requisite beautiful lady scientist Paula Raymond.

As for our male lead, well the star was obviously the Rhedosaurus, but Swiss actor Paul Hubschmid, here under the name Paul Christian, was capable as Thomas Nesbitt, the man who the authorities won't believe when he tells them his colleague at the bomb site was crushed by falling ice caused by a massive creature. The reluctance of science to accept anything outside their sphere of knowledge, including their responsibility, is a major theme, as it takes quite a while for anyone to take seriously the witnesses' claims, although the deck is somewhat stacked against the boffins when they're stuck in a film with special effects being the main draw.

Nevertheless, there's no excuse for the psychiatrist who tries to reassure Tom that the Rhedosaurus doesn't exist because there's no proof of the Loch Lomond Monster, an invention which exists only in the film, unless they were getting mixed up with the more likely candidate of the Loch Ness Monster. Nevertheless, Cecil Kellaway shows up as the friendly face of the establishment to initially pooh-pooh Tom's claims, then of course come around to his way of thinking when he does a spot of investigation in a diving bell, although he would have probably preferred the ensuing evidence was not quite so convincing.

But that star was not anyone human, it was Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animation, and it's true you can grow restless when the monster is not on the screen. Such is the archetypal nature of the scenes where it sinks ships, demolishes a lighthouse, and runs rampage through the streets of New York City, that if you were arriving here having never seen The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms before you might feel it was overfamiliar in spite of that, but Harryhausen's work here, as always, was a joy, and made the movie what it is. With a plot based loosely on his old friend Ray Bradbury's short story, this was the effort which made his career: he never looked back after this, regularly producing much-appreciated effects from here to his retirement. The cast are solid enough, but understandably disappear in the memory when the Beast is such a culturally overwhelming image - although trust Lee Van Cleef to be the sharpshooter here, making his mark as an expert gunman pretty early. Atomic age anxiety was rarely so potent: the creature even spread radiation sickness. Music by David Buttolph.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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