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The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) starring Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway

Synopsis of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms a nuclear test thaws and revives a frozen dinosaur. Freed from its Arctic imprisonment, it takes off on a path of destruction.

 Have you ever wondered what Godzilla would have been like if it had been made with stop-motion animation? If so, look no further than The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It precedes the classic Godzilla movie by a year, with much the same plot: a sleeping prehistoric dinosaur is awoken by a nuclear explosion, and makes its way back to its home, where humanity lives, causing untold damage on the way. But there’s more going on here than that.

Cast of characters

  • Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid), physicist. The last survivor of the scientific team that exploded the nuclear device that awoke the sleeping dinosaur; not only will no one believe him, they tend to think that he’s gone insane
  • Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond, Flight that Disappeared), paleontologist – the only scientist that initially believes Tom; she works as an assistant to:
  • Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway, The Mummy’s Hand, I Married a Witch), paleontologist. The scientist who doesn’t believe Tom initially, even after a second eye witness corroborates the species of dinosaur, but eventually does, and observes the Beast from a diving bell- and dies in the process
  • Colonel Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey) – the officer in charge of the military when the Beast attacks New York

“What the cumulative effects of all these atomic explosions and tests will be, only time will tell.”

Editorial review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms courtesy of Amazon.com

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms tangles with a lightouse - a shout-out to Ray Bradbury's short story, The Fog Horn, that the movie is based on
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms tangles with a lighthouse – a shout-out to Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Fog Horn, that the movie is based on

A matinee programmer with lofty ambitions, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is best appreciated as a vintage showcase for the stop-motion animation of special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen. The hoary plot follows the cold-war formula that dominated science fiction movies of the 1950s: After an atomic bomb test in the northern polar ice cap, a gigantic dinosaur–the fictional “Rhedosaurus”–is awakened from eons of dormancy, plots an undersea course for the Eastern seaboard, and proceeds to wreak havoc on New York City, culminating in a showdown with military marksmen at the Coney Island amusement park.

Stock footage and tissue-thin drama make this a by-the-numbers monster flick, further hampered by Eugene Lourie’s lackluster direction and a wooden B-movie cast. And yet, Harryhausen’s first independent effort retains its atomic-age fascination: Beast marked yet another technical milestone for Harryhausen’s impeccable techniques, and its perpetual status as a sci-fi classic is duly acknowledged in the DVD bonus features, including a retrospective featurette and a latter-day reunion of Harryhausen and longtime friend Ray Bradbury, whose short story “The Fog Horn” served as this film’s inspiration. –Jeff Shannon