Direction: Robert Gordon
Screenplay: George Worthing Yates and Hal Smith
Special Effects: Ray Harryhausen and Jack Erickson
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Executive Producer: Sam Katzman
Eiji Tsuburaya always wanted to make a giant octopus movie, but aside from some minor octopoid action in three 1960s Toho features, he never got the chance. So you have to wonder what the Japanese special effects director made of Ray Harryhausen's tentacled terror in It Came from Beneath the Sea.
Some have criticized the film as "routine." If you're expecting a groundbreaking kaiju eiga, that adjective would be apt. But if you're hoping to see a traditional 1950's monster-on-the-loose epic with then state-of-the-art special effects, you won't care that it's routine.
The story involves a giant octopus driven to the surface to search for sustenance due to nuclear testing. It discovers a new food sensation -- us. A trio of heroes (two scientists and a navy man) hope to put an end to the creature's reign, but fortunately for all daikaiju fans, the marine monster gets to attack San Francisco before it is rudely dispatched by an atomic torpedo.
A stop-motion creation, the six-armed octopus (more on this later) is a wonder to behold as it chases subs, sinks ships, and attacks coastal environs. The most elaborate set piece, the creature's raid on San Francisco, brims with priceless black-and-white spectacle. The octopus's attack on the Golden Gate Bridge, effectively intercut with footage of the heroes, would serve as a satisfactory tour-de-force in and of itself. But then we watch the sprawling cephalopod start to literally haul itself into San Francisco!
Buildings crumble, crowds flee, authorities rally. The monster's tentacles take on personalities of their own as they feel their way through the city streets like huge blind worms in search of prey. In fact, sometimes, they even seem to sense independently of the octopus, as evidenced by the tentacle that smashes into the helicopter and the one that later uncoils itself atop a group of fleeing humans.
For actors, movies like It Came from Beneath the Sea are generally thankless tasks. However, Kenneth Tobey as the navy man, Faith Domergue as the marine biologist, and Donald Curtis as the elder scientist do their best with the material they are given. Younger viewers may roll their eyes at Domergue's "feminine wiles," such as a scene in which she coyly coaxes a seaman to confess that a giant octopus attacked his ship. Of course, Domergue is also adept at rattling off the ABCs of, as Curtis calls her, the "new breed of woman." Too bad she mostly just gets to stand around and look concerned while Tobey and Curtis handle the standard monster movie heroics.
The love scenes, obligatory as they were in most of these things, provide the usual. Tobey gets to be somewhat arrogant, Domergue somewhat taken aback, and Curtis somewhat bemused. It's clear from the get-go that Curtis doesn't stand a chance with Domergue, but you still have to feel sorry for the guy in his role as the proverbial "third wheel." At least the movie doesn't waste much time on Tobey and Domergue's googoo-eyed interludes.
Not that it really matters -- after all, the real star of It Came from Beneaththe Sea is stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen. Even in this age of rampant CGI, the painstaking animation of Harryhausen's mammoth cephalopod remains an impressive achievement. I don't think it's too big of a leap to speculate that Tsuburaya was probably quite impressed by this American giant octopus movie.
Yes, Tsuburaya did get to "sneak in" some colossal cephalopod action of his own in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Frankenstein Conquers the World (footage excised in the Western version), and War of the Gargantuas. But he never got to make a whole movie about a giant octopus attacking the surface world. I imagine he envied Harryhausen's accomplishment.
ITEM: In the planning stages, It Came from Beneath the Sea was called Monster of the Deep and was to have been filmed in 3-D and color.
ITEM: To simplify the already complex task (and cost) of animating an octopus model, Harryhausen provided his cephalopod with only six tentacles.
ITEM: The powers-that-be in San Francisco refused to let scenes of their bay city be filmed, so the moviemakers had to film their Frisco scenes on the sly from the back of a bread truck.
ITEM: Star Kenneth Tobey appeared in a number of Grade-B movies during the 1950's, specializing in military and Western roles; his SFantasy efforts include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), The Vampire (a.k.a. Mark of the Vampire; 1957), and his best-known film, The Thing FromAnother World (1951).
ITEM: Howard Hughes touted Faith Domergue as the next Hollywood sensation by showcasing her in his films Vendetta (1950) and WhereDanger Lives (1950). Unfortunately, Faith's career failed to ignite. But the talented actress still went on to make a number of movies throughout the 1950's and 1960's, including the genre efforts This Island Earth (1955), Cult of the Cobra (1955), The Atomic Man (1956), and Voyage to thePrehistoric Planet (1965).
ITEM: The giant octopus emits an unlikely mammalian roar when being forced back into the sea by a bevy of flamethrowers. Why did American studios of the fifties think their monster insects, arachnids, and cephalopods should bellow as though they were some kind of mutant bear? I guess it was supposed to make them sound "scary." Instead, it just made them sound silly.
ITEM: Wouldn't it have been cool to have seen the stop-motion RKO King Kong tangle with the stop-motion star of It Came from Beneath theSea? If you answered "No," turn in your Daikaiju Diner's Card immediately.