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It Came from 

Beneath the Sea

Part One of The IT-athon!

     "You mean the Navy flew you all the way up here in one of those fancy jets just so you could go fishing?"

--  Sheriff Octopus T. Fodder   




Gonzoid Cinema




"Vroom! Vroom!"

You gotta strum your lips while saying it to get the full underwater effect...


Watch it!



Sights &
It Came from 
Beneath the Sea 
 Clover Productions /
 Columbia Pictures

The CineMagic of
Ray Harryhausen.

It Came from Beneath the Sea

20 Million Miles to Earth

Mysterious Island

Clash of the Titans


Our film opens with a montage of narrated stock footage; footage that reminded me of those old "How To" films we used to watch back in grade school during recess on rainy days. (Well, it was either that or square dancing.) And while our narrator waxes about the wonders of atomic energy, and how we’ve barely scratched the surface of its potential, he also warns we must use extreme caution with this new Pandora’s Box; for once it has been opened, it cannot be closed -- and who knows what we'll find lurking inside once we've cracked open the lead-lined lid...

Ah, the 1950's ... A truly magical time. It was an era when America, still wallowing in the fact that we kicked the collective asses of the Axis in WWII, looked to the future: a grand era of peace, harmony and easy living as we entered the new push-button age, with everything powered by our little friend the atom. 

But little did we know what the drastic consequences of this tapping into God’s Domain would wreak upon mankind; a horrible side-effect that threatened to destroy these dreams of utopia, rotting it away from the inside out. And it's name was radiation -- the unfortunate side-effect of atomic energy and the dastardly villain of our piece. For if we only knew the horrors it would spawn, we probably would have left well enough alone. 

Instead, brash and brassy, we blundered right on ahead, with the inevitably disastrous results: a rash of films featuring really, really big and mutated things running amok and trying to kill us all. And one of the first films to tap into this new breed of paranoia was this week's film: It Came From Beneath the Sea.

At the time the film was made, one of the crowning jewels of this new technology was the first atomic-powered submarine; and our story proper picks up on the sub's maiden voyage. A real beauty, the boat practically drives itself, but operating the thing proves so dull and tedious the crew is starting to go a little stir crazy. And as the bored submariners stew and fret about the rumored sterilization effects of the atomic-pile powering the screws, things continue on their hum-drum course until the sonar picks up a rather large blip following them. Too big to be a whale, Captain Pete Mathews (Ken Tobey -- thee fan favorite here at 3B Theater) orders the boat to speed up and alter course to try and shake it. But this maneuver only causes the pursuing blip to speed up and overtake the sub, snaring it, and stopping it dead in the water! After a few tense moments, whatever the heck it was lets them go and promptly disappears. Sending two divers out to inspect for damages, they find a big chunk of something stuck in the ballast. And the real unsettling thing about this drum-shaped chunk of whatever is that it appears to be organic -- and it's also highly radioactive!

Heading back to Pearl, Mathews gives the order that until they get some answers, technically, none of this ever happened. Keeping things on the Q.T., the Navy brings in a couple of experts; a Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Dr. Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue), to unravel the mystery. And after running some tests on the dismembered chunk of Specimen-X, there is much scientific babble amongst the eggheads, and many references to some conference in Cairo. Hilariously, Mathews looks just as lost as the audience during the scientific stuff, but has every intention of *ahem* "test-tubing" Dr. Joyce. When the final results come back, the experts soon deduce the chunk is part of a giant cephalopod (-- that’s a really big octopus to you and me); and when presenting their findings to the Navy brass, they postulate that the creature must have resided deep in the trenches of the Pacific until the H-bomb tests drove it to the surface. It’s seems a reasonable theory, given the physical evidence, but the Navy doesn’t show much faith in their findings and decides to just hush it all up.

Meanwhile, the creature strikes again, sinking a cargo ship. Only three survivors are picked up and taken ashore, where one of them insists a giant octopus attacked and sank them. The other two, not wanting to wind up in the nut-house, won’t confirm his story, so the first witness eventually recants. When the Navy gets wind of this, and faced with the mounting evidence, they send their research group to interview the survivors. Turning on the old feminine charm, Joyce eventually coaxes the truth out of all of them. And with all that corroboration, it's official: the Navy has a giant, ship-wrecking octopus on its hands.

So, with the cover story of secret naval maneuvers, all shipping in the Pacific is shut down while a massive search and destroy effort for the beast is put underway. Now, since the Pacific is a pretty big puddle of water, they decide to concentrate on the areas that report mysterious happenings or disappearances. One such lead is a missing weather-monitoring ship off the coast of Oregon. Joyce is about to head up there alone, but when another disappearance is reported in the same area, Mathews and Carter decide to tag along. Once there, the local Sheriff takes them to the beach where they find a wrecked car and some octopus tracks. (Yeah, I know -- just roll with it.) Scouring the beach with Geiger counters, looking for more evidence, they quickly find some when the monster suddenly surfaces and reaches for them with its massive tentacles. And as our heroes beat a hasty retreat, one of those appendages smushes the poor Sheriff.

With the creature’s existence now firmly established, the focus soon shifts to finding a way to destroy it. Seems conventional weapons won't do the trick, according to the experts, so, after setting up shop in San Francisco, the Navy begins to develop an electronic torpedo that should get the job done. (In truth, nothing more than an aerial torpedo with its fins removed.) And no sooner than the new fangled torpedo’s unveiling, the monster suddenly surfaces again and attacks the city. For reasons that can only be explained by the necessities of the script, the Golden Gate Bridge has been electrified to keep the monster away -- but it appears to have the opposite effect. And as the monster begins to feed on the electricity (-- I think), the thing actually starts to pull itself up and out of the water! The landmark is quickly evacuated, but the current is left on -- and the switch is located oh-so conveniently in the middle of the bridge! Deducing the monster must be attracted to the energy, Carter drives onto the collapsing bridge to cut off the source. He manages to get to the switch and pulls the plug, but this kinda ticks the monster off and it demolishes his car, trapping him there. With the bridge on the verge of collapse, Mathews leaves Joyce behind and barrels onto the fluctuating roadway to save Carter. Rounding him up, they manage to get off just as the bridge gives out. And as it collapses, the monstrous octopus falls back into the bay.

But the monster doesn’t stay quiet for long, however, and quickly surfaces again, near the Market District, and tries to pull itself ashore to probe for food! And while the Army manages to drive the octopus back into the water with flame-throwers, Mathews and Carter report back to the atomic sub with the new fangled torpedo. Once they're onboard, the sub quickly moves out to get a clear shot at the target. Once they get close enough, Mathews gives the order to launch the torpedo. They score a direct hit, but the monster grabs them before they can get clear, meaning they can’t detonate the torpedo's warhead without blowing themselves up.

They do explain why the timing device is needed, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Sorry. Back to the review...

In an effort to get them loose, Mathews dons an aqua-lung (-- which sounds so much cooler than scuba gear --) and swims out of the airlock. Armed with an explosive tipped harpoon, he plunges it into the offending tentacle. But when it detonates, he's knocked unconscious in the shockwave -- and worse yet, the monster doesn’t let go! Knowing where the monster’s vulnerable spot is, Carter tries next. Going for one of the creature’s eyes, he blasts it with another explosive harpoon. Enraged and injured, the monster sloshes in pain and drops the sub. Then, as the freed boat speeds away, Lt. Griff (Chuck Griffith), even though his two friends are still out in the water, obeys his Captain’s last order and detonates the torpedo, turning San Francisco Bay into one big bowl of octopus soup.

The danger ended, the sub surfaces to happily find both Carter and Mathews safely got away.

The End

I hadn't seen this film for a while, and as I dusted the tape off and watched it again, It Came from Beneath the Sea gave me a real bad case of déjà vu. The whole thing seemed a little too familiar, and it wasn’t until the questioning of the shipwreck survivors that I realized this film was basically nothing but a carbon copy of THEM! -- the seminal giant bug movie that came out the year before -- and frankly, not a very good copy, either. Not really all that surprising once you realize George Worthing Yates wrote both films. And he wasn't done rehashing the same themes either. Making a name for himself over the next few years writing about really big stuff -- including the English adaptation of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Yates squeezed a lot from this same formula as he bears the responsibility for most of Bert I. Gordon's giant-thingies on the loose boon-doggles. The actors involved are all game, and director Robert Gordon, with nothing really to shoot except the clumsy banter between the three points of one of the strangest love-triangles in cinematic history, manages to keep the pace moving nicely between the F/X shots.

Admittedly, as the film's main selling point, this isn’t one of Ray Harryhausen’s best efforts but I think it's still worth the time. To stage the climactic attack on San Francisco, the production company wound up having to sneak shots of the famous landmarks around the city. I guess the city fathers got wind that the Golden Gate Bridge, among other things, was destined to be destroyed in the film. And the mayor, not realizing that the monster was a miniature effect, believed the bridge would suffer massive structural damage while trying to support a giant octopus prop and refused to issue them the proper filming permits. (Another version of the story states the city fathers refused to lose the toll-money while the bridge was shut down for filming.) Hiding the camera in a bread truck, they drove across the bridge a couple of times to get the shots they needed. However, word of this subterfuge soon leaked out and the mayor retaliated by rescinding the production company's parking permits, meaning the cameras had to constantly be on the move or face a hefty fine. 

If nothing else, the film should be recognized as the first joint project between Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer. Impressed with Harryhausen's work on The Beast from 20000 Fathoms, it was Schneer who put out the feelers first, hoping lightning would strike twice with his own project, tentatively titled, Monster from the Deep. The two hit it off, and together, they would entertain us with many a fantasy matinee yarn for years to come. Under the wing of executive-producer -- and well known cheapskate -- Sam Katzman for Columbia Pictures, this probably goes a long way in explaining why the budget-strapped octopus had six tentacles instead of the customary eight, though Katzman would later chide that he paid Harryhausen (an egregious overestimation of) $10000 per tentacle. This would also explain the strange, abrupt shift in the lop-sided love triangle between the three leads. According to an interview with Tobey, one of the last things to be shot was the love scene between him and Domergue, where he finally wins the girl over. Before the cameras rolled, however, Katzman, as was his custom, consulted with his director and then proceeded to rip the pages from the script, ending the the six day shoot. (Did Katzman do with this with every picture he made?) To also keep costs down, shooting in color and cinemascope was also scrapped, and, in the end, they brought the production in for about $150,000. And just like Beast before it, It Came from Beneath the Sea was a box-office success, prompting Katzman to push Schneer for an immediate follow-up, which eventually turned out to be Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

If this isn't your first rodeo, then It Came from Beneath the Sea is nothing you probably haven't seen before; but you could do a lot worse than spending an afternoon with it. So crack a few brews, think back with fond memories to that awesome conference in Cairo, complete with Ms. Domergue in a string bikini, and enjoy the show.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Clover Productions :: Columbia Pictures / EP: Sam Katzman / P: Charles H. Schneer / D: Robert Gordon / W: George Worthing Yates, Hal Smith / C: Henry Freulich / E: Jerome Thom / M: Mischa Bakaleinikoff / S: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, Richard W. Peterson

Back to the IT-athon!

Originally Posted: 03/03/00 :: Rehashed:  04/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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