Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The (1953): Sci-Fi Monster Movie with Special Effects by Ray Harryhausen

One of the early atomic monster movies, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms helped  inspire a whole genre of creature features, including Godzilla.

Grade: B (***1/2 out of *****)

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Produced by Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester, and directed by Eugène, the movie boasts stop-motion animation special effects by expert Ray Harryhausen. Its screenplay is based on Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story “The Fog Horn.”

The story concerns a fictional dinosaur, the Rhedosaurus, which is released from its frozen, hibernating state by atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle.

The beast begins to wreak a path of destruction as it travels southward, eventually arriving at its ancient spawning grounds, which includes New York City.[6]

North of the Arctic Circle, a nuclear bomb test, dubbed “Operation Experiment,” is conducted. Right after the blast, physicist Thomas Nesbitt muses “What the cumulative effects of all these atomic explosions and tests will be, only time will tell.”

Indeed, The explosion awakens a 200-foot long carnivorous dinosaur known as a Rhedosaurus, thawing it out of the ice where it had been suspended for millions of years. Nesbitt, the only surviving witness to the beast’s awakening, is dismissed as being delirious.  But despite the skepticism, he persists about what he saw.

The dinosaur begins making its way down the east coast of North America, sinking a fishing ketch off the Grand Banks, then another near Marquette, Canada, wrecking a lighthouse in Maine and destroying buildings in Massachusetts.

Nesbitt eventually gains the support 0f paleontologist Thurgood Elson and his young assistant Lee Hunter after one surviving fisherman identifies the same dinosaur that Nesbitt saw.

The dinosaur returns to the Hudson River area, where fossils of Rhedosaurus were first found. In a diving bell search of the undersea Hudson River Canyon, Elson is killed after his bell is swallowed by the beast, which then comes ashore in Manhattan. The rampage results in 180 known dead, 1500 injured, and damage of $300 million.”

Meanwhile, military troops led by Colonel Jack Evans attempt to stop the Rhedosaurus with electrified barricade, then blast a hole in the beast’s throat, which drives it back into the sea.  But it bleeds all over the streets of New York, unleashing virulent prehistoric contagion, which infects the populace, and causes more fatalities. The infection precludes blowing up the Rhedosaurus or even setting it ablaze, lest the contagion spread further. It is decided to shoot a radioactive isotope into the beast’s neck wound, hoping to burn it from the inside, killing it without the contagion.

When the Rhedosaurus comes ashore and reaches Palisades amusement park, military sharpshooter Corporal Stone climbs on board a roller coaster. He gets to eye-level with the beast, and fires the isotope into its neck wound. The creature thrashes about in reaction, causing the roller coaster to collapse, and setting the amusement park ablaze.

When the fire spreads rapidly, the Rhedosaurus collapses and dies from isotope poisoning and heat stroke.

Paul Christian as Professor Tom Nesbitt
Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter
Cecil Kellaway as Dr. Thurgood Elson
Kenneth Tobey as Colonel Jack Evans
Donald Woods as Captain Phil Jackson
Ross Elliott as George Ritchie
Steve Brodie as Sgt. Loomis
Jack Pennick as Jacob Bowman
Michael Fox as ER doctor
Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Jason Stone
Frank Ferguson as Dr. Morton
King Donovan as Dr. Ingersoll
James Best as Charlie, radar operator

Directed by Eugène Lourié
Produced by Jack Dietz, Hal E. Chester
Screenplay by Fred Freiberger, Eugène Lourié, Louis Morheim, Robert Smith, based on “The Fog Horn” (short story) by Ray Bradbury
Narrated by William Woodson
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography John L. Russell
Edited by Bernard W. Burton
Production company: Jack Dietz Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: June 13, 1953
Running time 80 minutes
Budget $200,000
Box office $5 million


TCM showed the movie on October 12, 2020.