The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is about the past and the future, like Things to Come, and in a very conscious way proceeding from Menzies’ film by shorthand. All that formal apparatus can be stated as a nuclear physicist in love with a paleontologist. There’s your drama, and it seems the physicist’s experiment (called Operation Experiment) in the Arctic has unleashed a wrathful creature from the ancient past anxious to return to its ancestral home in the Hudson Submarine Canyons off New York. It comes ashore at Pine Street, makes not for Coney Island but Manhattan Beach (just as there is elsewhere mentioned a Loch Lomond monster), and dies when its virulently infectious wound is stanched with an atomic bullet.

This last scene, with the Rhedosaurus amidst a burning and collapsing roller coaster, so strongly resembles the oil fires in Tulsa and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean as to suggest an influence. Before that, the paleontologist’s mentor (the world’s leading expert in the field) descends in a diving bell to see the creature he can scarcely believe exists. “I feel as though I’m leaving a world of untold tomorrows,” he says over the phone link to the surface, “for a world of countless yesterdays.” But he is so enraptured by the sight he loses his life describing it, like Pliny the Elder at Pompeii. And then the creature rampages up Wall Street.

Harryhausen created the initial footage, a long take of the Rhedosaurus attacking a lighthouse at night. Equally memorable is a live-action fight between an octopus and a shark, echoing King Kong.


The Giant Behemoth

It is cited from Job at a funeral. Radioactive waste and fallout give rise to a sea creature from the dinosaur age, radiation-sick.

The second point is its rampage from Cornwall to the Thames, where it comes to die. A ship is wrecked, Londoners flee in terror as the behemoth treads over the city.

It’s electrified and deadly with radioactivity, its death is hastened by a radium-tipped torpedo from midget submarine X2. Then there is a report from the East Coast of America, dead fish as in Cornwall.

The film is played drily to these two points as a purely technical exercise for maximum effect, without commentary or drama except the lucid comparison to the Second World War arising from the images.