Columbia really were on a roll in the 50’s when it came to creating some of the best ‘Creature Features’ of that decade. And when paired in a solid working relationship with stop motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. Their films really did go from strengh to strengh.
‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ may not be the absolute ‘peak’ of the Columbia/Harryhausen pairing, but I still thought it was a pretty fun ride. As we follow members of the army/navy and scientists in trying to hunt down a mysterious Cephalopod thats been attacking ships in the Atlantic.
The script is kind of so-so on this one, there isnt really a tremendous amount that happens until about halfway through the 2nd act when they throw caution to the wind and just decide to let the giant squid attack stuff more often. Up until that point all we get to see is an (admittedly very well animated) set of tenticles rise up from and crash into the ocean a few times.
Theres the usual B-movie tropes present here, but it’s nice to see Faith Domergue get a bit more of a proactive and progressive role in proceedings here as Professor Leslie Joyce (Even if they do at times revert her to the stereotypical ‘screaming woman/eye candy’ role when the script needs to buy 5 minutes or so.
The tone and pace is really solid for this kind of movie and while it IS a little flabby in places (particularly around the end of the 1st act and start of the 2nd) Id really struggle with being able to cut this thing down to a faster/stronger production AND keep it feature length. clocking in at 79 minutes, it somehow feels longer. which is a bit unfortunate.
The direction is solid enough for movies of this type, it honestly feels like someone took that era of poverty row film making and actually put some money behind it. I think this is a fabulous example of the genre to introduce people because it has that veneer of professionalism about it, without losing the charm that those B-movies have. Direction of the cast is tight too with a clearly tight relationship between the cast and crew allowing the cast to really explore their scenes and the crew to experiment in bringing the best out of the crews stage movements.
The cine too is sublime, I watched the colour version for this outing, which does lose a bit of the moodier moments. But for the black and white print at least, im surprised they’ve managed to make this film look as interesting as they have, a lot of the close quarter set spaces really lend themselves to the moodier low light constructions and it’s nice to see them play with shadows to help create a sense of unease. If I had to have a preference though, I think i’d go colour all the way.
Not only were the colour versions approved by Harryhausen, but I think, while underplaying the lighting choices, that loss is easily outweighed by the vibrance and engagement it pays back when we open things out to our location based and airy open set based sequences. they’re rich, colourful and really help take the film to the next level for me.
Throw in some fab melodramatic and campy performances from the cast and your bog standard – all orchestral scoring for movies of this ilk, and I think theres a lot to love with this movie. I dont necessarily think it would be my ‘go to’ as a way to immediatley introduce someone to the ‘Creature feature’ subgenre (I still think maybe the ‘Godzilla’ movies or something like ‘Earth vs the Flying Saucers’ or ‘The Giant Claw’ would do a better job of giving someone a ‘feel’ for what to expect. But this would absolutley be the 2nd film i’d show them as an introduction! and it’s one I can definitely recommend!