The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956)

Genres - Horror, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film, Natural Horror  |   Release Date - Dec 1, 1955 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues is a movie that film students should look at closely -- the rest of us may enjoy it for what it is, a supremely low-budget sci-fi thriller, but would-be filmmakers could learn something from this picture, even at this late date. This was only the eighth movie (and only the third sci-fi film) to be distributed by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, through what was then called American Releasing Corporation (which later became American International Pictures). It was paired with Roger Corman's better (and better known) The Day The World Ended -- indeed, as a kid this reviewer used to get it mixed up in his memory with Corman's similar (but lower budgeted and more inventive) Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954). The double-bill of two science fiction thrillers turned a tidy profit that put the fledgling Arkoff-Nicholson company on a path of success that would last for 20 years. As Nicholson and Arkoff were under-capitalized at the time, however, the two producers allowed Jack Milner and Dan Milner, two brothers they knew, who were film editors and eager to go into production, to raise the money and produce the picture for them. The movie is peopled by the usual coterie of aging second-tier lead actors, including Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs (spelled "Kathy" in the credits), and Michael Whalen, and good inexpensive younger talent (Phillip Pine). Some parts of it -- especially Pine's scenes -- are handled sharply, and certain attributes, such as the scoring by Ronald Stein (who sounds at times like he was emulating Bernard Herrmann's work on Hangover Square), are as good as any comparable elements in more expensive movies; but a lot of the movie also looks like it was shot by an editor, as opposed to a director -- there is no sense of style in most of it, and the viewer comes away with the conscious sense that a lot of first takes were used. That isn't a always a bad thing, as the cast is sufficiently professional to work competently, and the little elements of roughness give the movie an offbeat tension that helps carry it across 80 minutes of screen time. The major deficiencies are the monster itself -- one of the sillier looking rubber-suit jobs of the period, resembling an inflatable beach toy in distress -- and the attempt at a montage to depict the creation of the monster. The makers simply didn't have the effects budget to pull that part of it off. But assuming that one can get past that flaw, this isn't a bad little movie -- it's more interesting than any number of major studio dramas of the period, and moderately entertaining within the context of cheap 50's cinema. Curiously, Cathy Downs and Michael Whalen were to turn up together again four years later in Richard Cunha's Missile To The Moon (1959). Jack Milner and Dan Milner were later responsible for From Hell It Came (1957), about the killer tree-stump from hell.