Sunday, 1 November 2009

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

It Came from Beneath the Sea was one of the earlier films to showcase the special effects talents of Ray Harryhausen, and his stop-motion animation is the main reason for seeing this one.

The plot is your basic stock-standard 1950s giant monster plot. Lurking in the deepest depths of the oceans are gigantic octopuses (or octopi), far larger than anything known to science. Living so deep beneath the surface of the sea they do very little harm until they are disturbed by (yes you guessed it) H-bomb tests. The now radioactive giant octopus is unable to obtain its normal food supply because its usual prey now knows it’s radioactive and keeps well out of its way (as you would). So naturally the mammoth cephalopod comes to the surface looking for alternative food, and naturally that alternative food supply turns out to be people!

As you may have gathered by now this is science fiction with the emphasis on the fiction. But silly pseudoscience is one of the reasons we watch 50s giant monster movies, so that hardly counts as a fault. The octopus starts attacking and sinking shipping, ad then finally figures our that if you want lots of people to eat a city is the best place to find them. So it attacks San Francisco, causing mayhem in the streets. You may be wondering how a purely aquatic creature can cause mayhem in the streets, but it’s a really really big octopus with really long tentacles, so it can sit in the bay and reach out and swat folks in the streets.

In this movie you won’t get any of that bleeding heart “we must catch the beast alive and study it” nonsense - everyone including the scientists just wants to blow the creature to kingdom come, even though we’re actually responsible for making the poor critter radioactive in the first place. In that respect it makes an interesting contrast to the basically sympathetic treatment of the monster in Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon series made around the same time.

There is of course a romantic triangle sub-plot, with noble scientist Dr John Carter (Donald Curtis) and square-jawed heroic submarine captain Pete Mathews both competing for the affections of the obligatory beautiful female scientist. Carter treats her with respect and as an equal while Mathews is a moronic sexist pig, so naturally she falls hopelessly in love with the latter. Outrageous sexism is practically compulsory in US sci-fi movies of the 50s, but at least in this one we do get some criticism of such attitudes. The beautiful female scientist must naturally fall in love with one of these men, to prove that even though she’s a scientist she’s still 100 percent woman. Faith Domergue is quite good as the beautiful female scientist, although the rest of the acting is a little on the wooden side.

In some ways this is one of the more disappointing Harryhausen efforts because he only gets to create one monster. Usually in the movies he worked on half the fun is wondering what he’s going to come up with next, but in this one once you’ve seen the monster you’ve seen the monster. But it’s a pretty good monster, even if the integration of the stop-motion sequences into the live-action sequences isn’t as seamless as in his later work.

And this is classic 50s giant monster stuff, with panic in the streets, lots of explosions, a nuclear submarine battling a gigantic octopus, plenty of people getting squashed by the monster and even the Golden Gate Bridge being demolished by the enraged sea monster. It’s all good clean fun, and if you’re a fan of this sub-genre you can’t possibly not enjoy this film. Although be warned - even by the standards of the era the sexism is especially outrageous in this film.

The Region 4 DVD includes the same extras as all the other Harryhausen movies released here, but it’s a fairly nice print.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

Man, you have got to mention Kenneth Tobey when you do a review of one of his movies! He's just the perfect military/police guy in every film!