Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Go To

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 sci-fi horror film directed by Eugène Lourié, starring Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, and Kenneth Tobey.

The first giant monster movie of the '50s — reviving the genre after a hiatus that dated back to 1933's King Kong — 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, Gorgo, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Monster That Challenged the World, Reptilicus, Tarantula!, Them!, and last but not least, the most famous gigantic reptile of all, the first film of which came out the very next year.

The movie follows Professor Tom Nesbitt (Christian), the sole witness to the existence of a giant, 100 million year old carnivorous dinosaur (Rhedosaurus) that was thawed from the ice by a nuclear blast detonated in the Arctic Circle. The monster makes its way down the East Coast of North America, wreaking destruction as it goes. Soon enough it arrives at New York City, rising from the sea to prey on the hopeless civilians. Things are further 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.

The story was partially inspired by the short story "The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury.—-

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Title Change: Inverted. The short story actually changed its title (to "The Fog Horn") to differentiate itself from the movie.
  • Adaptational Expansion: The film is only loosely based on the short story, which was entirely focused around a lighthouse, while in the film, the lighthouse only takes up one brief scene.
  • 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 (it is strongly implied to be the only one left). 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. In the film, the creature is mindlessly violent and must be killed, while the original creature is more lonely and desperate than anything else and hides from humans under normal circumstances.
  • 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 (a young 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 Real Ghostbusters.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Beyond the basic premise of a dinosaur spending 65 million-plus years frozen in the ice and still being alive when thawed out, there's also...
    • Artistic License Palaeontology: The Rhedosaurus is a fictional genus, so this is forgivable, but — as a quadrupedal carnivore — it's a really weird dinosaur. Curiously enough, its quadrupedal stance makes it resemble more rauisuchians like Fasolasuchus, relatives of crocodiles that were apex predators during the Triassic.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: A big lizard-like dinosaur.
  • Bawdy Song: The older lighthouse keeper apparently quite liked the new song on the jukebox at the local tavern, the one about "Gin and wild women". The younger lighthouse keeper prefers ballads, which is why he's just starting to play one on his accordion when the rhedosaurus attacks.
  • Big Bad: The rhedosaurus that got released and is now rampaging.
  • The Cameo: A Rhedosaurus appeared in Planet of the Dinosaurs and in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
  • 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. Its blood carries a deadly virus from prehistoric times, so shooting it will only cause the disease to spread and kill even more people, so in the end it's shot with a rifle grenade loaded with a potent radioactive isotope, causing it to die of radiation poisoning, which also neutralizes the disease it carries.
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: George Ritchie, Tom's colleague who encounters the Beast first. He falls and breaks his leg (or something), and although Tom tries to save him, he gets buried and killed in the same avalanche which critically injures his would-be rescuer.
  • Dumb Dinos: The Rhedosaurus is a mindless rampaging beast. The Bradbury short story the movie is based on averted the trope, however — the dinosaur is intelligent enough to socialize and goes out of its way to avoid humans.
  • 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.
  • Fire Purifies: Defied. The scientists don't believe fire will be enough to purify the rhedosaurus's body of the infection it carries, and will instead spread the disease in the ash and smoke. No, they need to take it up a notch and irradiate the thing.
  • Funny Foreigner: Georges LeMay, the humourous Quebecois fisherman. There's a Nova Scotian (read: Angolophone) 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.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Surprisingly averted. Unfortunately, the disease it carries means that this isn't a good thing.
  • Herr Doktor: Tom, a Swiss nuclear physicist, is a downplayed example of this trope.
  • Homage: The Beast staggering on the sand as it goes into its death throes, homages the scene of King Kong crawling on the sand as he succumbs to the tranquilizing gas. Harryhausen was a huge fan of King Kong, and its stop-motion effects artist, Willis O'Brien, was his mentor.
  • 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.
  • Kaiju: A Ur-Example that set the groundwork for many of the archetypes of the genre. This film heavily inspired the kaiju movie, Godzilla (1954), which came out the following year.
  • 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.
  • Monster Delay: Subverted. The first several minutes of the film being devoid of action makes it seem like the titular Rhedosaurus won't appear until well into the runtime, but once an Arctic nuclear test is conducted during an early scene, the aforementioned dinosaur fully appears in all his glory immediately afterwards.
  • Monster in the Ice: The Rhedosaurus was frozen in Arctic ice since the early Cretaceous and is thawed out by nuclear testing.
  • Nuclear Mutant: This is considered to be the first movie to associate nuclear weapons with giant monsters — though as it's an Unbuilt Trope, there's never any indication that the beast was mutated.
  • 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.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • The cop with only his service revolver who then became lunch for the beast, should at least have had the common sense to either shoot from concealment or run for cover when he had to reload.
    • The additional cops who arrive with shotguns don't appear any smarter. They were lucky it was sufficient to make the beast go another direction. Not at all lucky for the people in the building it plowed through and in the street on the other side.
  • Retirony: Dr. Elson is about to take his first serious holiday in a long, long time, but postpones it upon realizing there's a living dinosaur on the loose. Naturally, he does not survive the film.
  • Science Is Good: Played with; 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: Tom is served by a nurse with this attitude while recovering from his injury in the Arctic. When he points out a news story that could corroborate his claims about the monster's existence, she flatly replies "That item is right where it belongs: on the comics page."
  • Signature Roar: The rhedosaurus' bellowing roar seems to have been seldom if ever used elsewhere, making it distinctive.note 
  • Spinning Paper: A non-spinning newspaper carrying the story of Dr. Elson's death appears at one point to confirm the worst. Later, a big headline gives the estimated death toll and property damage of the creature's rampage.
  • Starring Special Effects: Did you think The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms referred to a human character?
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: If a living dinosaur did get thawed out of arctic ice in the modern era, ancient diseases that humans lack resistance to would be a concern. Unfortunately, by the time the characters think of this, many people had become infected.
    • However it's rather doubtful that Mesozoic-era diseases would be of much danger to modern mammals. Birds, on the other hand...
  • Whateversaurus: Left unnamed in the original short story, the film made the Beast into a quadrupedal, semi-aquatic carnivore known as a "Rhedosaurus". Many viewers have noted that the first two letters of its name also happen to be the initials of the film's special effects artist.