Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In short: It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)

Some mysterious creature kinda-sorts attacks the atomic submarine of Commander Pete "Pete" Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) nearly provoking an emotional reaction from the wooden-faced Navy man. Back home, scientists Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and her friend (who'd be gay in the remake) Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) are drafted to find out what exactly it was that attacked the submarine. After long and arduous scenes of science(!) it becomes clear that the US coastal regions may soon make the acquaintance of a rather large radioactive octopus or squid (the film uses both terms as if their meaning were interchangeable, of course) who has moved from the depths of the ocean to better places because its usual food can smell its radioactivity for miles.

At first, the authorities don't believe the scientists' findings, but once another ship is attacked by the squidtopus, it's red alert for the Navy. All the while, the tentacular sensation makes its way to beautiful San Francisco.

Like it is so often the case with 50s giant monster movies from the US, It Came From Beneath the Sea suffers from a bad case of "too much wooden doll romance, too little tentacle", with hours of the film's running time spent on the awful "romance" between Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue (with a possible love triangle situation that never becomes dramatically important and is therefore completely superfluous). Director Robert Gordon seems more interested if his hot piece of wood Ken Tobey and Faith Domergue will marry and have little half-wooden children than in Ray Harryhausen's GIANT RADIOACTIVE OCTOPUS (OR SQUID). Now, don't get me wrong, I do appreciate romance in my genre movies as much as the next guy, but 50s monster movies' idea of romance as "will the snarling square-jawed jerk subjugate the whimpering female" does not seem all that romantic to me.

To be fair to It Came, the film's script at least puts a little more effort into treating Domergue's character as a grown-up human being, and even lets a man give a little feminism speech on her behalf (surely, there's nothing at all patronizing about the film's decision to give that speech to a man while Domergue happily agrees with what he says), but then the film leaves it at lip service for Domergue's supposed independence and has the actress screeching whenever possible, never giving her anything to do that'll actually save the day, or at least a wooden man. Except for that one scene where she gets information by showing off her legs and flirting, of course; it's totally dignified. Totally.

Yet even when it isn't delighting its audience with "romance", It Came still has pacing problems. Scenes tend to go on too long as if this were a contemporary indie production, with many a shot that could have been left on the cutting room floor in favour of scenes where something actually  happens.

Which would probably turn It Came From Beneath The Sea into a satisfying movie, for whenever something does happen that concerns Harryhausen's giant monster, things suddenly turn interesting, even exciting. While Harryhausen had at this point not quite perfected his art (that would happen with 20 Million Miles to Earth, I think), the great man's sense of detail and the dynamism that makes his stop motion work so superior is already in place. It's just too bad his art is not standing in service of a movie that deserves it.


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