The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is one of the godfathers of the monster movie genre. Released in 1953, its popularity in Japan directly influenced the creation of Godzilla. Couple that with a Ray Harryhausen created monster as well as my love of monster movies and you've got one very interested viewer. How does it stack up? Outside of some issues due to aging (mostly the effects) and some of the acting, it is actually a pretty good movie even to this day.
The movie's plot is pretty simple: after a nuclear test in the Arctic, a prehistoric dinosaur (known as a "Rhedosaurus") breaks free from the ice, ready to destroy everything in its path. Professor Tom Nesbit (Paul Hubschmid, credited as the much more marketable "Paul Christian") has seen the beast, but he is the only one, and after he leaves the Arctic for New York City, people think he has gone crazy. Nesbit knows he isn't crazy though, and along with the plucky Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) and well-known Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), he tries to prove the monster's existence to skeptical members of the Army. Meanwhile, the Rhedosaurus begins ravaging ships and destroying a lighthouse as it comes closer and closer to New York City.
I'll be honest; I was expecting a full-on action packed monster movie when I sat down to watch this. Whenever I hear about a movie that features some sort of giant creature wrecking havoc, my mind forgets that there is supposed to be a "plot" and that was no different here. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is more about the search for the truth rather than the Rhedosaurus destroying things. We follow Nesbit trying to convince the people around him that this monster is real and that it's going to destroy everything in its path if they don't stop it. That's great and all, but to be fair, the acting isn't exactly the best. Hubschmid has some charisma, but his accent is Schwarzenegger thick and his delivery can be off due to the language barrier. The supporting cast are just a bunch of stock characters and there's no development… but do you honestly expect better in a movie like this?
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms has a simple and effective plot: monster gets freed, monster starts destroying things, monster ends up in New York City, people try to kill monster before things get too out of hand. Still, there's not a lot of the Rhedosaurus until the climax, so I found myself getting bored here and there waiting for the monster to attack. When it finally arrives on land, though, it gets really exciting. He eats people and crushes stuff, causing general chaos and years later it is still awesome. Harryhausen's creation is very lifelike and if you can put your mind into the perspective of a '50s moviegoer, you can forgive the cheesy stop-motion and the reliance on sound stages. One effect in particular, where the Rhedosaurus eats a person, is really obvious. Still, it was kind-of impressive in a minimalist way.
The climax is a little lame as they pull an Adam West Batman and conveniently invent something to kill the monster. That had me rolling my eyes as well, but the whole scene at the amusement park is excellent overall.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms looks its age today; the stop-motion can get distracting and the acting is a little suspect. Still, you have to put it into perspective; in the '50s, this could have wowed children and adults alike. Plus, you can't deny its influence on the monster movie genre; you can see definite similarities between this and the movies that came after. It is a quick movie, around 75 minutes, and it's definitely worth a watch for both historical and entertainment value.