Friday, June 09, 2006

"I'd like to be, under the sea..."

Howdy again friends, neighbors and other freaks 'o nature! Well my own little slice of Hell continues with the bathroom renovation. The good news is it is nearly finished! The bad news is we still cannot use the shower! Dag nabbit! Carn flabbit! The highly skilled yet mentally challenged construction crew is taking this weekend off and so I have a bit of time to get this post up. I am sorry that there has been a two month period of inactivity, but that's what ya get when you go with non-union labor! So while Biggy Bigs and La Nueve Constructor are not around, let's get this sucker done!

This is the first in a continuing series of reviews focusing on the films of Ray Harryhausen. If you don't recognize that name, well I feel sorry for you. Because that means that your childhood must have been very dull indeed. Ray Harryhausen is the person who made the technique of three dimensional stop motion special effects into an art form. Ray was influenced by Willis O'Brien who did the stop motion animation for King Kong (RKO 1933). Harryhausen worked under O'Brien and went on to become the master of stop motion eventually producing films highlighting his effects.

It Came From Beneath The Sea (Monster From Beneath The Sea)

Columbia, 1955, 78 minutes, Not Rated menu screen


Kenneth Toby - as - Pete Mathews: atomic sub commander
Donald Curtis - as - Dr. John Carter: world famous marine biologist
Faith Domergue - as - Dr. Lesley Joyce: new woman and world famous marine biologist


Robert Gordon - Director
Charles H. Schneer - Producer
Ray Harryhausen - Technical Effects

Taxonomy: Ray Harryhausen stop motion animated giant critter flick.

Plot: Giant octopus gets irradiated from atomic testing and decides to eat San Francisco.

Bluntly: Fun black and white 50's style giant monster flick with a cool monster. Great intro to Harryhausen.


It came From Beneath The Sea is not Ray Harryhausen's first film, but it is an early one and will work fine as an introduction to both 50's giant monster flicks and Harryhausen's "technical effects." It shares some common features (some would say flaws) with other 50's monster movies. First there is an over reliance on stock footage to pad out the length and keep the plot rolling along. Then we have the traditional dogma of just showing a little bit of the creature at first and saving full well lit shots of the critter until the climax. In this case this was necessary because stop motion animation and film matting was - and still is - very time consuming, so just having a peek at the octo gave Harryhausen a break in his work load. Additionally, these movies tend to have very weakly drawn characters that benefit from skillful acting in order to bring them to life. It Came From Beneath The Sea lucks out in this regard as the three principal actors do indeed breath a little bit of life into their parts. It Came From Beneath The Sea also displays qualities that would come to be de rigueur for Harryhausen films. The animated creature in some ways shows more spark than the human actors (translation: stop motion - very good, script - crappy!). And we see Harryhausen's love of having his creatures interact (translation: destroy) famous landmarks. That was one of the things that made me love Harryhausen flicks as a kid. Think of it! The guy was lucky enough to work in movies, build models all the time and make and animate cool monsters! What little boy would not think that was the coolest job ever!

Okay on to the flick...We start out with a useless voice-over narration that explains that the world's first atomic powered submarine is currently on its shake down cruise. The sub is a modern technological marvel and cost $55 million. Guess what? This is accurate! The first nuclear powered submarine, The Nautilus put to sea on January 17, 1955 and cost about $55 million. Something in a 50's monster movie reflecting reality! Wow! Don't get used to it!

Anyway, we meet sub commander Pete Mathews and a few members of his crew. They are listening to music over the sub's intercom! Gee, hope the Commies ain't listening. Suddenly a gigantic image appears on the sonar! Then the unnamed wondersub is stuck! There seems to be a very high level of radiation outside the sub! Full power and blowing the ballast tanks do nothing, the sub is caught fast! Crafty old Pete tells his helmsman to alternate setting the fore and aft dive planes for dive and surface and this pops the sub free! Yea! Of course they were still at full power with empty ballast tanks and so one would think that they would zip to the surface and perform a rather spectacular breach that would slam all aboard into the bulkheads, but that does not happen. So much for realism. To give the filmmakers credit, the interior shots of the sub are good and cramped which is how a sub of the era would look.

The sub puts into Pearl Harbor for repairs and the Navy asks two marine biologists ("The best minds in the nation.") to examine the big blob 'o stuff they found stuck in one of the dive planes. And so we meet Dr. John Carter and Dr. Lesley Joyce. Some of you might recognize the name 'Doc Carter' as a hero from the golden age of pulp magazines. Or not. Was this intentional? Who knows! I have a hard time believing that such a hip reference to 30's/40's era pulp would be intentionally written into a 50's monster movie, but who can say?

Carter and Joyce obviously have a thing going, she calls him, "magnificent, brilliant" and he refers to her as, "darling." They set to work and Pete hangs around to see what they come up with. The testing takes two weeks, and all the while Pete is right there. So, the commander of the first atomic powered submarine has nothing better to do than babysit a couple of marine biologists for two weeks!? Of course not! Don't be silly! He makes good use of this time by putting the moves on Dr. Joyce! They talk and flirt in a very silly way - again the script ain't that hot. Dr. Carter does not seem to notice that Pete is coming on to his girl. Why? BECAUSE HE IS WORKING! While Dr. Joyce and Pete are playing truth-or-dare, Dr. Carter is getting the job done! I kept hoping that he would look up from the microscope and say, "Hey! If you two are not going to contribute, then get the hell out of the lab! Some of us care about our work!" But he does not. He puts up with the silliness in a good natured fashion.

So, our first impressions of the three principals are set: Commander Pete Mathews - tough, cocky Navy officer who knows what he wants and goes after it! Dr. John Carter - Serious yet casual intellectual who does not act until he has plenty of data. What about Dr. Joyce? Well, we get to hear the first of several of her little bullet point arguments. She has the annoying habit of saying, "A. blah, blah, blah. B. blah, blah, blah. and C. blah, blah, blah." I guess this was the writer's idea of how a woman with an analytical mind would express herself. Domergue carries it well, but it comes across as quite forced. Dr. Joyce also sells herself as very much the prototype for the liberated woman who does not need a man. And of course, because this is the 50's, everybody smokes like a foundry and drinks hard liquor like it was Kool-Aid. "Oh Yeah!"

After two weeks of Dr. Carter's hard work, they announce to the Navy brass that their brand spanking new gee-wiz neeto-keen atomic sub was caught and held in the grip of a frickin' huge octopus! Well, okay, they do not use those words, but that is the gist of it. The brass laugh, shake their heads at these dorky scientists (Hell, one of them's a woman!) and leave. Dr. Joyce, liberated tough intellectual chick that she is, pouts.
Okay, now we get to see some octo action! The frickin' huge octopus attacks a trawler. We see the often repeated shot of a big old tentacle looming out of the sea as someone in the foreground looks on agape. This is done with back-projection and as always with this technique, the result is kind of dopey looking. Some of the crew of the trawler jump overboard while the octopus is attacking. They jump towards the octopus! I think I could have made it to the other side of the ship before jumping into the drink. Then we get to see the octo sink the trawler.
Hello sailor!
A few of the crew survive and are brought in for questioning. They seem to be suffering from radiation poisoning. They quickly learn that telling folks that their ship was sunk by a giant octopus tends to make people think they are nuts and so clam up. Dr. Joyce steps up to the challenge and with a combination of cleaver questioning, cleavage and flashing thigh, gets one of the crew to tell what happened. Another point for women's liberation!

Now that they have creditable witnesses (translation: male sailors) the Navy starts taking the whole frickin' huge octopus thing seriously. The search is on! Dr. Carter and Dr. Joyce speculate that the giant octopus is a natural creature from the Mindanao Deeps who became irradiated as a result of atomic testing. They think it is attacking ships because the radiation would cause its normal prey to avoid it's vicinity. Hey guess what? Many fish can detect electromagnetic fields, which means that this is plausible! Wow! Twice in one flick!

The navy snaps into action! A sonar picket is established as well as anti-sub nets and electrified cable across San Francisco harbor. Mines are laid and the water is baited with dead shark! The plan? Lure the octo in and finish him off! Of course all of this frenzied activity is shown via stock footage - cause it's cheap! Do you have any idea how much it would cost to rent the United States Navy and film all that crap!?

Meanwhile, Dr. Joyce and Pete fly to Oregon to investigate reports of low fishing catches and the disappearance of a family at the beach. Dr. Carter stays to help with the defense of San Francisco bay. Mm'kay? Pete and Dr. Joyce go to the beach with the local sheriff (translation: octo chow) and find the missing family's crushed car and giant sucker marks in the sand. Pete and Dr. Joyce have time to make-out a bit - in their swimsuits - before the frickin' huge octo shows up and thankfully kills the dumbass sheriff. At which point hardnosed Dr. Joyce screams and falls into Pete's arms. Yep! She'll be a burnin' her bra any time now. They deduce that the octo is heading for San Fran. The game's afoot!
Back in San Fran, we finally get to see Harryhausen's octo do some real damage. It smashes the clock tower at Fisherman's Wharf and explores the streets with it's tentacles. The Army uses flamethrowers to convince it to get back in the bay. When the flames touch the tentacles, the octo screams! Hee hee hee! Well the electric cable just pisses old octo off and it attacks the Golden Gate Bridge. Dr. Carter realizes that the electric current is doing more harm than good and goes out on the bridge to shut it off. The octo smashes his car and Pete comes to his rescue. then Dr. Joyce hugs them both. Damn woman, make up your mind! I'm just trying to find my heart!

The film ends with a great sub vs. frickin' huge octo scene where Dr. Carter repays his debt to Pete by saving him and then we get the closing scene with the love triangle situation still in doubt - but it could be interpreted as Dr. Joyce deciding to try out both guys for a while! Pete has the closing line as he says to Dr. Carter, "Say Doctor, you were right about this new breed of woman." In the end, Pete seems like a nicer guy, Dr. Carter seems like a brave more action oriented guy and Dr. Joyce has definitely loosened up!


Babeage: Faith Domergue! She was one of Howard Hughes discoveries, ya know. She was in many sci-fi films and TV and is best remembered for her role in This Island Earth.
Hey you two, want to have some fun?
Slezeploitation: Nope. But if you stretch the love triangle thing a bit...

Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: Harryhausen's great octopus! I cannot imagine how much work it took to animate that critter! Many people have pointed out that it only has six arms. I never took the time to count, and we rarely see the whole critter anyway, so who cares?

Violence: A little at the end, but it's pretty comic bookish stuff.

Gore & FX: Harryhausen's great stop motion animation and model work, some not so great back-projection and stock footage. Gore? Didn't see much in the American films of the 50's.

Great Lines:

Opening Narration - "The mind of man had thought of everything - except that which was beyond his comprehension!" I guess that sounds better than, 'The mind of man had thought of everything - except what he hadn't thought of!'

Pete Mathews to one of his crew - "Not afraid of a little radiation, are ya Mack?"
The crewman's response - "I've heard it makes you so you can't have children, Sir."

Dr. Carter - "Their's a squid on display at the American Museum of Natural History that measures just under 100 feet." Uh, yeah - like about 70 feet under!

When Dr. Carter and Dr. Joyce wonder why the giant octo keeps heading toward SF despite the Navy's efforts to shoo it away, Pete Mathews says, "Maybe it wants to fight!" Too bad this is a 50's movie. If it were made today, one of the learned doctors could turn to Pete and say, "Oh shut the fuck up!"

Moral: Chain smoking tobacco and drinking gallons of hard alcohol are less of a public health threat than giant irradiated pissed-off cephalopods.


Oh come on! How can you go wrong? Ya got a silly giant monster story, several scenes of stock footage, a rather low key love triangle, almost - but not quite - cardboard characters, Faith Domergue - Rrroowww!, and a cool Ray Harryhausen animated hextopus smashing up San Francisco landmarks!
Trivia Question: What film is this scene from?
This film is available on DVD as a stand alone purchase or part of The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen boxed sets. There are two boxed sets, each containing 5 films. It Came From Beneath The Sea is included in the Legendary Science Fiction Series set. The other set is the Legendary Monster Series. I purchased both sets last year for $30 each. They should be cheaper now. If you are interested in Ray Harryhausen flicks, these sets are a great deal. The ten films are not the complete works of Mr. Harryhausen, but they make a great start for any interested collector. The prints are beautiful, the sound is great, the presentation (menus etc.) is fun and they included some nice (although repetitive) extras.

This film and the boxed sets get BigRuta's Seal of Approval and Highest Recommendation!

I once saw a pentapus in Florida, but he was yellow, fairly small and lived in a swimming pool.

Oh those crazy Belgian monks!

Chimay Peres Trappistes Grande Reserve Ale (Blue)

Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont
S.A. Bières de Chimay, Chimay, Belgium

Chimay Blue Label is one of three ales produced by the brothers of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (or Trappists) at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont. The other Two Chimay ales are Chimay Red (Premiere) and Chimay White (or Blonde or Triple or Cinq Cents). Each Chimay beer is wonderful and has its own personality, but my favorite is Chimay Blue.

The Trappist monks in Belgium have a long brewing tradition and a reputation for excellence. Trappist Monk Ale is a recognized ale style unique to the six Trappist Abbeys that produce ale for profit. The six Abbeys are: Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and La Trappe (Holland). They can be rather hard to find in America. I have only had the pleasure of tasting Chimay and Rochefort. By law, only these six monasteries can call their product Trappist Monk Ale (Peres Trappistes). Many breweries imitate the style, but they must refer to their product as "Abbey Style Ale", "Belgian Monk Ale" or some other non-official moniker. All true Trappist Monk Ales are top fermented, bottle conditioned (additional yeast is added after bottling to produce a secondary fermentation), very flavorful and complex. They can vary in color and bitterness, but most have relatively high alcohol by volume.

ABV: 9.00% IBU: I would guess 30 to 50.

Color: A beautiful deep rich red - almost brown. Ruby highlights when held up to the light. If it were not for the head, you may think it was port.

Aroma: Rich and complex, but so well balanced you really have to concentrate to pull out the individual scents. Nutty, roasty, slightly sweet, fruity like raisins or figs.

Head: Wonderful soft brown creamy rich dense persistent head. Smells slightly of toffee or caramel. Leaves strands of suds called "Belgian Lace" on the sides of the glass as you drink it.

Taste: Here is a sign of a great balanced beer in the European tradition - the taste reflects the impressions you had from the aroma and head! Rich and smooth, even and balanced, the flavor does not change abruptly but evolves as you drink. Roasted nuts, sweet dried fruit like raisins and figs, toffee and caramel overtones. Slight hint of spice. Warm dark bread flavors and a nice cleansing bitterness - far from harsh - during the finish. Short aftertaste which then gently fades.

Recommendation: Chimay Blue is one of my favorite beers. It goes well with just about anything and is great with game and red meat. Chimay Blue also complements desserts nicely. I have had it with 70% cacao dark chocolate and the combination is fantastic! But I think my favorite way to indulge in Chimay Blue is just by itself. On a cool Autumn evening or frigid Winter night it is a great way to reward yourself!

Get some! Drink it! Thank me!

Okay, well, I feel better now that I have posted again! Till next time remember: Life is short. Watch fun movies. Drink real beer!


Questions, comments and requests welcome.