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As a result of an arctic nuclear test, a carnivorous dinosaur thaws out and starts making its way down the east coast of North America. Professor Tom Nesbitt, only witness to the beast's existence, is not believed, even when he identifies it as a "rhedosaurus" to paleontologist Thurgood Elson. All doubts disappear, however, when Elson is swallowed whole during an oceanic bathysphere excursion to search for the creature. Soon thereafter the rhedosaurus emerges from the sea and lays waste to Manhattan Island until Nesbitt comes up with a plan to try to stop the seemingly indestructible beast. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
When the streets are being cleared once the beast comes ashore in NYC, films appearing on various theater marquees are "Detective Story", "Come Fill The Cup" and "Across The Wide Missouri". See more »
Shortly after the beast comes ashore in New York, he is shown emerging onto a street from a side street, and pausing. Behind him are a number of cars and pedestrians who continue to drive or walk casually, which they would certainly not be doing if a huge prehistoric monster had just appeared less than a block away. See more »
This is Operation Experiment, a secret base far north of the Arctic Circle. Experiment was the codename for a top priority scientific expedition. These men arrived here on X-day minus 60. It has taken them the full two months to get ready. Today is X-day.
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If one is in need of a good laugh, there is no better place to start than by watching many of the creature features churned out in the fifties and sixties. Why else do we sit down to watch such perfectly awful schlock like The Giant Gila Monster or The Giant Claw? It is the total ineptitude of the film making process involved in putting those films onto celluloid that makes them endearing to us in their own special way. There were however, a few films of the era that somehow managed to rise above total mediocrity enough so that we can watch them simply because they are decent well made films. This is not to say they are any kind of spectacular cinematic achievement, but in comparison to the usual dreck of that era, they shine like the North Star.
The Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms is a giant dinosaur that has spent the last few million years as a perpetual frozen Popsicle. When some scientists start monkeying around with nuclear testing as they often did in these types of film, the beast does a quick thaw, and wakes up mighty darn hungry. When scientist Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) witnesses the creature, and his companion becomes dinosaur fodder, nobody believes him of course, attributing it to delusional traumatic distress, known more commonly in the fifties as hallucinations. Just as Tom is also about to chalk the whole thing up to delirium, he reads about a boat being attacked by a giant sea serpent. It is then that he enlists the aid of Paleontologist Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), and his assistant Lee (Paula Raymond). The old professor says no dice, it just ain't happening. Lee, however, seems to be hot for Tom's heavy Swiss accent and has him look through some dinosaur mug shots to see if he can identify the beast. After a quick scene in which they let us know that if this film were being made in 2004, Tom and Lee would be looking at the pictures in the bedroom instead of just making eye contact, Tom identifies the beast as a Rhedosaurus. Lest you decide to go looking up what a Rhedosaurus is in the Dinosaur Almanac, I'll save you the trouble by telling you it's a complete figment of the imagination of the writers and animator Ray Harryhausen. From here the chase is on, and eventually the Rhedosaurus decides to homestead in New York City.
There are several reasons why Beast stands out as a cut above normal. Though the script contains the usual inane dialog one expects, the fact that Tom and Lee come up with a decent intelligent plan to prove its existence helps a great deal. There is also the fact that they actually give us a reason as to why the Rhedosaurus is moving down the Atlantic coast instead of making it all seem like random attacks. Foremost, and most importantly, the film works because of the animation of Harryhausen. Forced by a low budget to do all the work on animating the Rhedosaurus by himself, Harryhausen does a terrific job at bringing the beast to life, despite the fact that at times its size changes to fit the scene it happens to be in. After this film, Harryhausen did all of his animations working alone until Clash of the Titans where for the first time he required the help of assistants. It makes one almost regret the use of CGI in films today, as the animations by Harryhausen always had a certain kind of charm to them. Despite continually being saddled with low budgets (the entire budget for Beast was $200,000), Harryhausen could always be counted on to bring a certain amount of class to many of these films that would have otherwise ended up as just another vehicle for Mystery Science Theater. It should also be mentioned that Director Lourie who spent most of his career as an art director and production designer, does a terrific job in the Arctic Scenes, and especially in the New York scenes as soldiers following a trail of Rhedosaurus blood are overcome by radiation sickness.
There are of course the usual bits of silliness that seem to go with the territory. Professor Elson gives a running commentary as he discovers the Rhedosaurus while in a diving bell though he is quite oblivious to the fact that the creature has decided to make him today's appetizer. Likewise a New York policeman uselessly empties sidearm before experiencing his own private version of an esophagus water slide.
As for the acting, it's nothing terribly outstanding but still much better than what you usually get. Cecil Kellaway was always good in roles such as these and his presence alone will lift any film a notch or two. Some may complain about the woodenness of Christian and his Swiss accent, but I found his acting to be quite adequate and was actually glad of the accent as it seemed to add a little more to the character. As for Raymond, she's fine too but could have used a little help in the wardrobe department as one particular dress she wears is too hideous for any film of any decade. Other than that though, she's quite good.
Best of all, Beast is available on DVD and if you are inclined to revisit these old films this is one definitely worth a purchase. And believe it or not, the DVD also has a few extras on it, including previews of other Harryhausen films, an interview with Harryhausen, and a section where Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury reminisce about the good old days. While it may not seem like much, it is infinitely more than you usually get for these kinds of films.
Beast will never win any kind of the accolades reserved for films of obviously better quality, but for me it's just good enough that one can watch and enjoy simply because it is a step or two up from what you might expect. And if you're a step or two up I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Beast from 20,000 fathoms is a B.
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