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The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

downloadMy brother was reminding me that in the 1950s, the Arctic (Ocean) was kind of like the last frontier on earth. It had been visited, but was not well known and it was during the 1950s that nuclear submarines were engaged in mapping the arctic, floating both among and under the ice floes. It was not until the late 1950s that a submarine was able to push through the ice and, in the words of my brother, take a selfie on the North Pole. It was like the closing of a frontier. After the arctic, there was really nothing else to do but take the exploration in films to space and out-right fantasy. No more going to islands and discovering King Kong or the Arctic and finding prehistoric monsters or even aliens.

But this might be why the Arctic features in a few 1950s sci and fantasy films, most prominently in The Thing From Another World and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms begins with a test of a nuclear bomb in the Arctic, which releases a prehistoric monster that had been frozen in the ice for millions of years. A specialist in radioactive isotopes, Dr. Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) sees the monster, but no one will believe him. He contacts the respected paleontologist, Dr. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), but he finds the idea of a frozen dinosaur come to life incredible. Only his assistant, Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) believes Tom. Together, Tom and Lee track down several fisherman who claim to have lost their boats when attacked by a giant monster.

Eventually, the evidence mounts up so that not only Dr. Elson, but also Tom’s military friend, Col. Evans (Kenneth Tobey) believe him and they try to locate the monster (which they call a Rhedosauros, a fictional dinosaur), except that the monster has other ideas and invades New York City a la Godzilla.

Interestingly, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was released over a year before the Japanese classic Godzilla and served as an inspiration. There are many similarities: the connection between atomic weapons and monsters, the way it attacks boats, the way it comes ashore to destroy a whole city. Ray Harryahusen’s Rhedosaurus probably looks better than the original Godzilla, which is really a man in a suit. However, the Japanese film gave their monster a much deeper significance. Godzilla is not just a rampaging dinosaur, but a direct product and representation of the atomic bomb and it’s deadly effects and trauma.

The-Beast-from-20-000-Fathoms-images-e6efcd1b-fdec-44e1-b9c8-efc46c46273However, despite the lack of an especially deep meaning, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is still a fun movie. It’s not a long movie, only 80 minutes, and incredibly was made for little more than $200,000. It’s a testament to creativity on a shoestring, a creativity that influenced films from Godzilla to Them! and beyond.

The idea came from a short story by Ray Bradbury called “The Fog Horn,” which featured an attack by a giant monster on a light house (a scene which makes it into the film). Ray Harryhausen – who had previously worked with Willis O’Brien on Might Joe Young – was for the first time able to work alone. He said they could only afford one model of the Rhedosaurus, unlike King Kong, where there were multiple models – you can even track the changes through the film. Ultimately, Harryhausen’s Rhedosaurus looks to me like a cross between a T-Rex and a Komodo Dragon.

The director, Eugene Lourie apparently used to tease Harryhausen that he made his monsters die like a tenor in an opera. This made me laugh when I heard it because it’s so true. The pathos Ray Harryhausen manages to wring out of the death of a rampaging creature is impressive. He did the same thing at the end of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, pausing for a truly operatic end for a dragon that really wasn’t in the story that much, but managed to convey more emotion that the entire cast put together.

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Cecil Kellaway, Paul Raymond, Paul Christian

In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the Rhedosaurus goes out amidst a burning roller-coaster on Coney Island, taken out by a radioactive isotope. He gets all the drama, while the people are along for the ride, though Cecil Kellaway as Dr. Elson is quite good. I am always happy to see him in a film and the character even makes jokes about leprechauns, which I thought was ironic since Cecil Kellaway had played a leprechaun in a movie only a few years before. Another familiar face is Kenneth Tobey as Colonel Evans. He makes a crack about flying saucers, another irony, since he helped discover one in the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World.

The film grossed over $5 Million, an impressive return for a film made for only $200,000. But the creative returns were even more impressive, inspiring Godzilla and Them!, but also launching Ray Harryhausen as solo creator and unique genius.

This post was written as part of the Ray Harryhausen Blogathon. My thanks to Wolffian Classics Movies Digest for hosting! Click here for more posts about Harryhausen’s work.

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Posted by on July 11, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Luck of the Irish (1948) – A Little Late on St. Patrick’s Day

0040553I meant to watch The Luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but somehow I didn’t get to it. Last week however, I went on a Tyrone Power bender and watched the last few movies I hadn’t seen from the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol CollectionOne of the movies was Cafe Metropole and the other was The Luck of the Irish, released in 1948.

Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Cecil Kellaway, Lee J. Cobb, Jayne Meadows, and directed by Henry Koster (the man who directed many of the Deanna Durbin musicals and movies like HarveyThe Bishop’s Wife, and The Inspecter General), The Luck of the Irish is an unpretentious and surprisingly low-key comedy.

Stephen Fitzgerald (Tyrone Power) is a reporter who has been freelancing in Europe and earning very little for his efforts. He’s been hired, however, by publisher David C. Auger (Lee J. Cobb), an extremely successful man known for his unscrupulous methods, who now wants to move into politics. Stephen’s friend, Bill Clark (James Todd), doesn’t approve. He thinks Stephen’s selling out his principles for a big paycheck and job security. While the two of them argue about it on vacation in Ireland, they drive over a rickety bridge that collapses and their car sinks into the creek, stranding Stephen and Bill in a small Irish village with an inn and not much else, though the inn turns out to be run by Anne Baxter as Nora.

When Stephen sees a man (Cecil Kellaway) sitting by a waterfall (that all the inhabitants of the village swear doesn’t exist), hammering shoes, he is told that the man is probably a leprechaun and that if Stephen catches him, the leprechaun must give him his pot of gold. Stephen doesn’t exactly believe this story – he thinks it’s a prank – but when he does catch the leprechaun and is offered a pot of gold coins, he is surprised and refuses to take it.

Cecil Kellaway and Tyrone Power

Cecil Kellaway and Tyrone Power look at the pot of gold

He returns to New York and starts work for Auger, writing speeches and articles. He discovers, also, that Auger’s daughter, Frances (Jayne Meadows), was instrumental in getting him hired and has clearly decided that Stephen is the man for her. He’s uncomfortable with the very modern apartment she’s decorated for him, and though he tells Auger that he intends to maintain his own principles, he soon finds out that in working for Auger his principles must be sacrificed. You can’t write speeches for a candidate whom you disagree with without sublimating your own opinions and endorsing his.

But just as he is settling into his new life, the leprechaun shows up, claiming to be from the employment agency. His name is Horace and he is determined to serve Stephen in every way he can (though he doesn’t really know how to mix drinks, but he chauffeurs pretty well). He doesn’t actively sabotage Stephen and his burgeoning romance with Frances. He is really more like Jiminy Cricket; he represents Stephen’s conscious, reminding Stephen of what is really of value in life. Horace is not, however, above a few machinations to ensue that Stephen and Nora meet again in New York.

What I really liked is that it’s not about trading your soul for success; it is a much more personal story. It is about Stephen, who is trading his soul for success. He has definite principles, but somewhat weak character. He badly wants to settle down and live a particular lifestyle and earn good money and is willing to suppress the things he believes in to do it. Horace points out to him that it is important who you serve (Horace is speaking of himself, serving Stephen, but it is a clear metaphor for Stephen working for Auger). The person you serve is who you end up being like, whose principles you end up living by, whose interests and concerns become your interests and concerns.

Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter with an Irish fireman in New York

Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter with an Irish fireman in New York who is a bit jealous

The film also manages to avoid the trap of demonizing Auger and especially Frances (who manages to come across as more than just a heartless schemer). The focus is instead on Stephen and his decisions in life.

Cecil Kellaway is delightful as the irrepressible leprechaun, with a little hop-skip in his walk and an impish twinkle in his eye. I was expecting a slightly more fantasy-ish film, but it’s surprisingly grounded, despite the presence of a leprechaun. The focus is less on any magical things he can do and more on his very presence and his friendship with Stephen. And Tyrone Power is good as the principled, but vacillating Stephen who is confused about what he really wants, but remains likable throughout.

It’s not a screwball comedy, with lots of slapstick (though there are a few falls on Stephen’s well-polished floor). It’s more the incongruity of having a leprechaun in New York that provides the humor. I had no particular expectations for the film, so I was agreeably surprised. It’s a fun and satisfying movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Comedy, Fantasy

 

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