The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
is a 1953 giant monster movie directed by Eugène Lourié. The film was the first giant monster movie of the '50s
, following a hiatus in the genre that had been occurring since 1933's King Kong
, and this film also introduced the theme of the atomic bomb
to the genre. It kicked off a hefty trend
, including The Amazing Colossal Man
, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman
, The Giant Behemoth
, The Giant Claw
, It Came from Beneath the Sea
, The Monster That Challenged the World
The movie follows Professor Tom Nesbitt, the sole witness to the existence of a carnivorous dinosaur (Rhedosaurus) that was thawed due to a nuclear blast detonated in the Arctic. The monster makes its way down the coast of North America, wreaking destruction as it goes. The monster soon arrives at New York city, rising from the sea to prey on the hopeless civilians. Things are furthered complicated by a mysterious prehistoric disease carried by the beast; killing it would cause the disease to easily spread and kill the world's human population.
The movie was a huge hit, despite its relatively meagre budget, largely for its masterful stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen
, whose career this movie kick-started; indeed, it still looks pretty good to this day, for a '50s movie.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptational Villainy: In the short story that the movie is loosely inspired by, "The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury, the dinosaur is a much more sympathetic and tragic figure, coming to a lighthouse because it mistakes the horn for the cry of a member of its own species. Although it destroys the lighthouse in a rage when the horn is turned off, no one is killed, and it shows no interest in further destruction, returning to the ocean peacefully. The human characters respond to it with sympathy and respect, indeed never even considering killing it.
- Adventure Rebuff: Tom Nesbitt asks paleontologist Thurgood Elson to fit out an expedition to search for a living breathing prehistoric monster. Dr. Elson finds the idea of a prehistoric monster living in modern times far-fetched and declines Tom's request. See Ironic Echo below.
- Agent Scully: Most of the characters in the movie scoff at the idea of sea monsters.
- Amusement Park: The climax of the film takes place at Coney Island, as the lights and sounds attract the beast. A crack sharpshooter (Lee Van Cleef) takes a ride on one of the rollercoasters to get close enough to shoot a highly-radioactive bullet into the monster. The monster's death-throes smash the heck out the various rides. The scene was later given an homage in an episode of the Ghostbusters animated series.
- Canada, Eh?: See Funny Foreigner.
- The Cameo: A Rhedosaurus appeared in Planet of the Dinosaurs and in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
- Early-Bird Cameo: When Tom is looking through pictures to identify the beast, one of the dinosaurs shown would eventually get a starring role in Gorgo.
- Death by Adaptation: The Beast itself. In the short story that the film was inspired by, it survives and goes back to the sea peacefully.
- Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The only way to safely kill the beast.
- I Love Nuclear Power: See Follow the Leader below.
- Ironic Echo: "If every account of anyone ever seeing a monster was laid end-to-end, they'd reach the moon".
- Immune to Bullets: The Beast is not so much immune as dangerous to injure. A shell from one of the big guns opens a wound, but its blood carries a deadly disease.
- Follow the Leader: This was the first movie where the atom bomb was responsible for the existence of the monster. It was followed by Them!, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, and, most famously, Gojira.
- Funny Foreigner: Georges LeMay, the humourous Quebecois fisherman. There's a Nova Scotian fisherman named Jacob Bowman who is much more toned-down and believable. Tom himself, implicitly Swiss, is written off as this by a few people.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Angel Eyes can pick his teeth with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
- Kill It with Fire: Defied. The giant dinosaur could be killed with fire, or with a lot of other things, but fire would carry its diseased particles all over the world and we'd all die anyway.
- The Obi-Wan: Dr. Elson.
- Omniglot: Tom is revealed to be one when he talks to Georges LeMay on the phone in French. Tom is played by Swiss actor Paul Humbschmid (credited in the movie as "Paul Christian"), and quite a few Swiss speak French.
- Ray Bradbury: The story was partially inspired by the short story "The Foghorn." Sort of.
- Science Is Bad: Averted; the portrayal of science is handled with far more subtlety and ambivalence than in most of the monster movies that followed; science unleashes the monster, but it's also the only effective way of killing the monster without making things even worse.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Awakened for you by nuclear power!
- Sea Monster: When nobody believes Tom about the creature, he's referred to various other legendary sea serpents.
- Servile Snarker: The nurse