Title: It Came from Beneath the Sea
Year of Release: 1955
Director: Robert Gordon
Length: 79 mins
Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, Harry Lauter
In typically dramatic fashion, this B-movie classic begins with a bristling voiceover about nuclear submarines culminating in the sensational pronouncement, “The mind of man had thought of everything! Except that which was beyond his comprehension!”
We are then transported to one such submarine captained by Commander Pete Mathews (Tobey) on exercise in the Pacific Ocean, where the crew pick up a mystery object “bigger than a whale” on their sonar. Uh-oh. The sub comes under attack by this massive unknown creature but manages to limp back to Pearl Harbour where it is examined by a team of marine biologists (headed up by Domergue, who sticks around to provide the love interest – more about that later). Subsequently, some tissue is discovered and is found to belong to a giant octopus. The scientists conclude that the creature is from the Mindanao Deep, a submerged trench eat of the Philippines said to be more than 10,500 metres deep, and has been forced from its natural habitat by that pesky H-bomb testing.
When a spate of disappearances are reported in the area, the U.S. Military have to act before the creature makes its way to San Francisco (because that’s what giant cephalopod do, apparently). They are only partially successful, and in the climax we witness a titanic showdown between the creature and the Golden Gate Bridge during which, let’s face it, neither side is likely to be covered in glory. Despite being an inanimate object, the bridge actually holds its own. The rumble is enough to spark panic in the streets, the city’s residents apparently ignorant to the fact that simply being on dry land would ensure their safety from sea monsters. Though, that said, the local sheriff (Lauter) was on dry land when he was attacked so it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. We don’t actually see the monster ‘in the flesh’ until the second half of the film, but the suggestion is there, the constant threat, which makes it a neat little metaphor for nuclear war. When the giant man-and boat-eating radioactive octopus does make an appearance in order to pick on a Canadian freighter, the order is to abandon ship which makes total sense. There’s a giant octopus nearby, let’s all just jump in the water.
This is pretty standard Fifties fare, with people’s post-war insecurities and pervading nuclear fear being played out regularly on the silver screen. It must have been absolutely terrifying to be a crewman in those early experimental submarines when you weren’t just unsure whether the engineering and technology that was supposed to keep you alive would hold up, but you also weren’t sure what else was in the water. To add an element of cold realism, key scenes were filmed in and actual sub (the diesel-electric USS Cubera) with the help of serving navy personnel in supporting roles. The movie was developed in the wake of the first Hydrogen bomb explosions partly as a retort to Universal Studio’s (Columbia’s great rival) hugely successful It Came from Outer Space (1953). It Came from Beneath the Sea was even more of a success, as it was produced on less than a quarter of the budget and made more at the Box Office where, upon release, it was paired with Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), widely acknowledged as one of the first true zombie movies.
One of the most fascinating aspects of It Came from Beneath the Sea is the clumsy love triangle subplot involving Professor Lesley Joyce (Domergue), her colleague Dr. John Carter (Curtis) and Commander Pete. At one point, when they all should really be more interested in the big monster terrorizing the ocean, Carter patiently explains to Commander Pete that Lesley is representative of a “new breed” of women who, “Feel they’re just as smart and courageous as men.” Well, I’ll be damned. It’s almost as awkward as the set-up in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Despite his having all the personality and charm of a tennis ball, Joyce is clearly attracted to the more macho Commander Pete, and doesn’t resist when he comes on to her. She then goes back and asks John what she should so about it. Incredibly, Beau Numbero Dos doesn’t get mad about it, and simply encourages Joyce to explore the emotional implications of the kiss. Okay, mate, Ta. For the rest of the film Lesley flits between both leading men, stating that when all the octopus business is cleared up she’ll be embarking on a lengthy tour of Egypt with John, before turning around and accepting commander Pete’s impromptu and quite unexpected marriage proposal. So yeah, while adding a human element, all that malarkey was confusing and somewhat unnecessary. Stick to the monsters, please.
Whilst the acclaim wasn’t universal, upon release the film was met with generally favourable reviews. Radio Times called it a, “Classic monster flick,” while contemporary resource Allmovie (previously All Movie Guide) wrote that it, “Utilized elements of the documentary, with a narration that makes the first half of the movie seem almost like a newsreel, which gives the action a greater immediacy. This is all presented in a cool, clipped realistic manner, with a strong but convincingly stated macho tone…It all served to make the first quarter hour of the film almost irresistibly suspenseful, and gave Harryhausen one of the best lead-ins that one could ask for, for his effects.”
The stop-motion creature effects were designed by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, who also worked on Mysterious Island (1961). To save money, he was only allowed to animate six of the octopus’ eight limbs, leading him to jokingly name the creature “his sixtopus.”
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