From the DVD case: The action is wet and wild in this sci-fi thriller that pits man – and woman – against a giant octopus. Submarine commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) and scientists Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) battle an angry sea monster driven from the depths of the ocean by an H-bomb explosion. In search of non-contaminated food, this tentacled tyrant counts among its victims a fishing trawler and its passengers, a family sunning at the beach, several San Francisco skyscrapers and even the Golden Gate Bridge! A daring attempt by the scientists to destroy the monster while saving themselves is a gripping finale to this aquatic adventure. The riveting special effects were created by Ray Harryhausen. (1955, b&w)
Mark says: I love a good giant monster picture. And if that monster happens to be a giant octopus animated by stop-motion master, Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), well, that’s all the better.
It Came from Beneath the Sea was the first film to pair Producer Charles H. Schneer with special effects artist Ray Harryhausen. They would work together many times after this movie.
The story itself is rather simple. A giant octopus, which has become radioactive due to H-bomb testing, can no longer feast on its regular prey (its radioactivity warns the fish before it can catch and devour them). To survive, it must come to the surface and prey on creatures that can’t detect its radioactivity. That is to say, humans.
It’s interesting to note that the octopus isn’t a giant because of the radiation exposure (which seems to be the standard template for such films) but that it was already a mammoth and only came to the surface in search of food.
After the creature attacks an atomic submarine commanded by Cmdr. Pete Mathews, played by Kenneth Tobey (The Thing from Another World, The Howling), the Navy becomes involved. They enlist the services of two great marine biologists, Prof. John Carter, played by Donald Curtis (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), and Prof. Lesleyl Joyce, portrayed by Faith Domergue (This Island Earth, The House of Seven Corpses).
Somewhat of a love triangle develops between the three, though Prof. Carter never seems to be truly interested in Prof. Joyce. At one point he does shout out, “What a gal!” and kisses her on the cheek, but that is about the extent of his affection. The true romance is between Prof. Joyce and Cmdr. Mathews.
Kenneth Tobey’s performance isn’t as strong as his work in The Thing from Another World, but that can be attributed to an inferior script. Faith Domergue is fine as a love interest, but less than believable as a world-renowned scientist. The dialog is awkward and the narration is laughable. Just for a taste, here’s the narrator’s opening monologue:
From our beginnings on the Navy drawing board, through the months of secret experiments out on the western desert, then through the desperate search for metals with the properties she needed, she was designed to be the nation’s greatest weapon of the seas – the atom-powered submarine. Her engines were to be a miracle of speed and power, her sides strong enough to withstand any blow, her armament and fire power of greater force than the worst enemy she might encounter. The mind of man had thought of everything – except that which was beyond his comprehension!
But we’re primarily interested in the giant octopus, anyway.
Harryhausen was under considerable budget constraints, and to save on expenses, he created his octopus with only six tentacles. In fact, much of the time we only see one giant tentacle emerging from the ocean. Still, this is an impressive monster and it is incredibly fun to watch. Its attack on San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge is the highlight of the film, but even the lesser scenes are effective. Harryhausen, a true craftsman, took the time to make sure the creature’s movements on land were subtly different than its movements underwater.
Like most pictures Harryhausen is involved with, it is his creation that is the true star of the film. The story and actors almost seem extraneous, which hurts the overall quality of the film, but not enough to deter monster fans. After all, we’re not expecting Shakespeare here. And as far as monster flicks go, this is a fine piece of work.
It Came from Beneath the Sea is directed by Robert Gordon.
Scene to watch for: Prof. Joyce (Faith Domergue) lectures Cmdr. Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) about his doubts of her being able to help in a crisis situation and then, seconds later, screams like a schoolgirl and hides her face when the beast appears.
Line to listen for: “Do you mind if I make a mental comment on the nature of women?”
FYI: Faith Domergue’s last name is correctly pronounced dah-mure (not dommer-gue). Ms. Domergue became one of Howard Hughes’ starlets when he bought her contract from Warner Bros. after meeting her during a party on his yacht. She was 15 years old at the time.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ½ out of 5.