It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film, Sci-Fi Horror  |   Release Date - Jul 1, 1955 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 79 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

It's easy to underestimate It Came From Beneath The Sea 50 years after its release. Not only have there been lots of monster-on-the-loose thrillers since, butits own creators, special effects designer Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer, have done much more obivously impressive work together during the ensuing 25 years. What's more, Harryhausen's earlier Beast From 20,000 Fathoms had a more haunting set of images scattered throughout its length. It Came From Beneath The Sea, however, had its own virtues that aren't entirely lost today, if you take the trouble to spot them. As a sci-fi film, it also utilized elements of the documentary, with a narration that makes the first half of the movie seem almost like a newsreel, which gives the action a greater immediacy than could be communicated by any plot summary. The script, by George Worthing Yates and Hal Smith, also drew from the best available model of its era, following the lead of Gordon Douglas's Them! (1954) by interweaving elements of mystery in the movie's first half-hour. And the film contained an extremely potent topical element -- the first 12 minutes of the movie are a realistic depiction of an atomic submarine on maneuvers, in a time when nuclear submarines were the scientific marvel of the moment. This is all presented in a cool, clipped realistic manner, with a strong but convincingly stated macho tone (which will figure prominently in the interaction of two of the key characters later in the movie); indeed, It Came From Beneath The Sea may well have been the earliest screen depiction of a nuclear sub in action, at a time when ships like the submarine Nautilus were making headlines and history around the world. It all served to make the first quarter hour of the film almost irresistably suspenseful, and gave Harryhausen one of the best lead-ins that one could ask for, for his effects -- luckily, the latter lived up to the anticipation and the movie ended up packing a powerful visual punch in its time, especially the scenes of the destruction of well known pieces of San Francisco real estate. What's more, the screenplay engaged in some interesting (though partly unfulfilled) sex-role by-play between the Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, and Donald Curtis characters, and also included an interesting subtext about the nature of bureaucracy -- the manner in which the survivors of the first shipwreck are treated nearly short-circuits the investigation before it begins, and the depiction of the inability of bureaucrats to deal with answers they don't expect or want are all strangely honest and disquieting, almost subversive elements to turn up in a mid-1950's mainstream movie.