30 Days of Madness, Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Directed by Eugène Lourié.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, based on the 1951 short story by Ray Bradbury, was the first post-nuclear monster movie and, alongside Them! of 1954, one of the best. A team of nuclear physicists performing a test with the hydrogen bomb in the Arctic unwittingly release a prehistoric beast locked in the ice for 100 million years. It makes its way down the eastern coast of North America ending up–guess where!–in New York City.

"I want to beeee a paaaart of it...!"

One of the things that always bothers me about mid-century movies like this is how maddeningly rational everyone fancies themselves. “You saw a giant beast? Come now, Doctor, next you’ll be telling me you saw flying saucers!” And I do have one major question: Why do giant creatures in these old movies make it their goal in life to automatically destroy every man-made structure they come across?

This was Eugène Lourié’s first time helming a film amidst a career in art direction, and he shows himself capable. There are a bunch of writers credited on this project, making authorship harder than usual to ascertain. Cast-wise, the only thing I want to be sure and mention is to look out for a young Lee Van Cleef (more than a decade before his starring roles in the iconic spaghetti Westerns For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) as the sharp-shooter at the end.

But The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms isn’t about who wrote it or who starred in it or even who directed it. It’s about Ray Harryhausen and his spectacular stop-motion creature effects. From Mighty Joe Young in 1949 to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad to Jason and the Argonauts (one of my all-time favorites) to One Million Years B.C. (where the spectacle of his visual effects had major competition from a bikini-clad Raquel Welch) to the original Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen’s name has become synonymous with jaw-dropping visual effects. He is truly one of the greatest visual effects artists in cinema history.

The final scene in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms may not make a lick of sense, but it is so cool to look at, I didn’t care.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

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