Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey) submarine has just experienced a very mysterious encounter. Whatever it was that disabled the sub and threatened the vessel has left some strange tissue on the outside, so scientists are summoned to see if they can provide any answers.
A pair of marine biologists Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) examine the evidence and determine the owner is a gigantic octopus. Well, of course the military rolls their eyes at this kind of theory. A giant octopus….yeah….thanks for your help professors.
However, it’s gradually proved that the professors are right! A French shipping boat is attacked! Three people go missing on a beach! Imprints of huge tentacles are left behind! Ok, everyone is onboard with this giant octopus theory now!
The military and scientists hatch a plan to lure this monstrous creature inland and hope to destroy it, but it certainly won’t be an easy task.
The radioactive fears of the 1950’s is mined for another entry in the chorus line of monster movies from the period and introduces a creature that is a metaphor for the dangers and repercussions us humans are tampering with.
The film has a bit of documentary feel with a narrator and news reports feeding us information during the first half of the film. It manages to look a lot more impressive than you’d think. Aside from naval stock footage, a lot of filming takes place on a real submarines. So, it doesn’t look at all look like shoddy sets and back projection backgrounds.
It follows the ‘monster formula’ for movies of this kind. Strange occurrences, outlandish theories, disbelief, mounting unexplainable clues pointing to the scientists being correct, the monster reveal, a plan to destroy the creature, a thrilling monster mash climax with destruction, the monster being killed and our heroes surviving.
Tobey, Curtis and the majority of the characters don’t really stand out during all this. He’s a standard leading man, he’s the nice scientist, there’s the no nonsense military men. The male characters are quite cookie cutter types from films of this era and aren’t memorable at all. They do what is required of them – give exposition, argue the dangers of this monster, try to save the day in the end. They do it all in the most perfunctory way.
The real stars here are Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion octopus (actually due to budget constraints Harryhausen was only to give the creature six tentacles and not eight). On the more attractive human side Faith Domergue gets to show off an unexpected tough, smart female scientist who manages to not be used exclusively as the damsel in distress and gets to make much more of an impression than any of her male co-stars.
The romance between Tobey and Lesley works well, this is mainly thanks to Domergue, who is a more of an independent leading lady than most were at the time. She gets to provide even more memorable banter in their scenes together than Tobey does.
There’s also the scene when she takes charge and using her womanly ways gets a sailor to divulge the true story of what he saw that attacked his ship. Watching the scene today might not seem that special, but in the context of a film from 1955, it feels pretty unique and a special moment.
Lesley does eventually falls for Pete, so our leading man has a woman to hold and kiss during this monster movie, but the early courting/flirting scenes between the two are better done than you might expect.
I think it would’ve been nice had they had that ‘flirting dynamic’ throughout the entire film, rather than just be relegated to ‘hero and his leading lady’ during the climactic attack scenes.
While Domergue manages to provide the most entertainment out of the actors, it’s Harryhausen’s creature in the last third of the film on the loose destroying landmarks when the monster fun lies. It’s the monster destruction you’ve been waiting for. The fluid moving tentacles rising up from behind buildings, crushing scared citizens, destroying the Golden Gate Bridge and tearing down buildings. This is why you bought your ticket kids!
It all might not look completely convincing, but there is a lot of fun and awe in watching it. Just knowing the techniques behind stop motion and the talents of Harryhausen, it’s a joy to watch the final product. The fluid movements of the tentacles, the glistening skin it has as if it just emerged from the ocean, the ominous design of those suckers, it’s all just great.
Some of the stop-motion octopus alongside the real running actors can look wonky at times, but for me that’s forgivable.
I can always excuse effects from older films that might not look as polished as moviegoers are accustomed to seeing, but knowing the technical limitations and amount of work that went into their creation, allowances should be made through 21st century eyes. But really overall, they mesh the live action and stop motion very well.
It Came From Beneath The Sea is pretty standard fare when it comes to 1950s monster movies. The main takeaways are Harryhausen’s creature and Domergue, who I really enjoyed watching and who stood out from the male cast. I probably would’ve liked the film more had Lesley and the octopus been the stars and both got more screen time.
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