HCF REWIND NO. 181: IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA [US 1955]
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 79 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A nuclear submarine on patrol maneouvres in the Pacific Ocean captained by Commander Pete Mathew comes into contact with something the sonar determines is massive. The boat is disabled but manages to free itself and dock, where it’s discovered animal tissue of great proportions has jammed in its dive planes. A man-and-woman team of marine biologists, Lesley Joyce and John Carter, is called in, and they identify the tissue as part of a gigantic octopus. The military authorities scoff at this explanation, but are finally persuaded to investigate upon receiving reports of missing bathers and ships pulled under the water. The scientists conclude that the octopus has been forced out of its natural habitat due to hydrogen bomb testing in the area. The testing has rendered the octopus radioactive, and this radioactivity has driven off its normal food supply….
It Came From Beneath The Sea is one of those films that, though having seen it five of six times in my life time [which is actually not very often considering what a big fan I am of the late great stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen], I always remember as being better than it actually is. Maybe this is partially because its last quarter is really exciting and quite spectacular for a low budget monster movie, and it tends to be the ending of a film, especially if it’s good, one remembers first. However, much of the first three quarters is a bit of a slog and doesn’t build nearly enough tension, even if one allows for the fact that there was neither the time nor the money to do lots of big special effects sequences throughout the film. The monster aside, the film often seems hurriedly put together, which in some cases it was, and lacks strong direction. The good bits are definitely worth waiting for though, even if I think it’s the weakest of the Harryhausen films and certainly not as good as his previous, similar monster movie The Beast From 20 000 Fathoms.
Originally titled Monster Of The Deep, then Monster Beneath The Sea, it was the first movie collaboration between Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer, and they would stay collaborators for the rest of Harryhausen’s film career. The low budget meant that two elaborate sequences involving an underwater cavern and a climactic earthquake had to be dropped from the final script, but more importantly Harryhausen had to build his octopus model with six rather than the correct eight tentacles. He tried to pose the creature so this lack of the right number of arms wasn’t apparent, and actually it isn’t: you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t aware of it. All the tentacles ended up as parts of monsters in subsequent films. During their love scene on the beach, Kenneth Tobey found himself sinking through the sand to the point of appearing shorter than Faith Domergue on camera, forcing him to dig himself out of the hole between every take. Some scenes were shot in one take, while others were shot in a real submarine and made use of much stock footage of submarines, ships and the like. The special jet propelled torpedo that somebody suddenly reveals exists and surprise surprise can be used against the monster was a real torpedo with its propellers and rudders removed. The commercially successful film was double billed in parts of the US with Creature From The Atom Brain.
Like many other similar films of the time, It Came From Beneath The Sea opens with narration about mysteries man has yet to encounter over stock footage, and actually there is too much narration throughout the film, telling us what any viewer could deduce from the montages occurring on screen. We see shots of scientists doing some important research work, something which we already know, but the bloody narration also tells us. Combined with all the stock footage, this makes for a somewhat uneven production, though the hurried shooting sometimes actually works in the film’s favour, giving some scenes an almost documentary feel. As everyone tries to find out what we already know, we spend much time on a love triangle which might be more interesting if it was more dramatic. Lesley and John are scientists who seemingly work and play together, but when navy commander Pete tries it ‘on’ with Lesley, John doesn’t seem to object one bit, even when he sees them frolicking at the beach. It’s all very lackadaisical, and there just isn’t enough increasing suspense despite all the exciting stuff that’s happening off the screen. Never mind, the octopus is great. After seen dragging a ship underwater in a very good scene nicely intercutting model work, a flooding set and back projection [not great, but better than the norm], it’s then off-screen till near the end, but those final twenty minutes have some great stuff in them. The creature pulls down some of the Golden Gate bridge, but even better are bits where its tentacles spread all over the city, smashing through buildings and squishing people. The climactic underwater confrontation is less impressive, the model work not convincing at all, but the effects sequences are all well put together, far more so than the rest of the film, something which almost makes it look like it has two directors.
Straight-to-the-point, no-messing-about Pete [Kenneth Tobey, Them!] and very ‘modern’, independent Lesley [Faith Domergue, This Island Earth] are a decent screen couple and the two performers do seem to be enjoying themselves, while unusually the Mischa Bakaleinikoff-credited score is quite sparsely used, not plastered all over the film as many similar pictures of the time did. Actually Bakaleinikoff didn’t write any of it: as with the other two films that followed, he put the score together from a variety of other sources, a common thing at the time. It Came From Beneath The Sea definitely has its moments, and is still worth seeing as a good example of how to stretch a tiny budget to its limits and really make the most of it. There are a few interesting touches here and there, like the rather ‘open’ ending which has a great final line: “Say, doctor, you were right about this new breed of women!” Overall it’s a fairly minor monster movie really though. This review, and the two to follow, come from the three two-disc DVD set from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment of the films. It’s a great set, but watch the films in their original black and white [there is an option to do this] rather than the colourised versions. Though they look much better than the usual colourised movies, and colourising them is at least partly justifiable because all three were initially planned as colour movies, they still don’t look quite right, something Harryhausen seemed to agree with on occasion, as on the commentary for It Came From Beneath The Sea he points out that the octopus shouldn’t be green!