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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Giant Behemoth

By the late 50s, the rampaging radiation monster was almost a cliche. Nonetheless, producer David Diamond gave us one more. The Giant Behemoth (GB) added nothing new to the trope. In fact, it is more of a hybrid remake of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ('53) and Godzilla ('54) than anything new. The monster is (again) a dormant dinosaur which imprudent nuclear tests awakened and mutated. The monster rampages through London as most monsters-on-the-loose do. Yet, despite not treading any new ground, GB is a reasonable effort on a small budget. The science part of the fiction is a bit thin. It's mostly a monster-stomps-city movie. Yet the radiation-created-monster is traditionally put in the sci-fi realm.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The story starts with some quasi-doumentary recap of some Pacific nuclear tests. the narrator warns of radiation dangers. A Cornwall fisherman is found dying of radiation burns. "Behemoth!" he says with his last breath. Later, thousands of dead fish line the shores. Biologist Steve Karnes and radiation commissioner Bickford investigate. Local reports of a monster are laughed off until a steamship is found wrecked on the beach. A giant lizard-like footprint proves the monster is real. A paleontologist suggests that the beast will head for fresh water. The Thames estuary is fortified. Despite this, a ferry is attacked and sunk by the beast. London's river front is evacuated. Karnes says the beast is so radioactive, it must be dying. He thinks that a bit more radiation will provide the fatal overdose. A "radium" tipped torpedo is the plan. Meanwhile, the beast emerges and stomps up and down some London streets. People flee screaming. Cars are crushed. People who linger are killed by its projected radiation. It breaks a bridge and falls back into the river. Trackers locate the beast. The mini-sub with its special torpedo is sent in. After some underwater chasing, the torpedo is launched. It hits the beast in its open mouth. The dying monster writhes, and sinks back into the water. London is saved, but a radio report tells of dead fish on America's east coast. The End?

Why is this movie fun?
Fans of the rampaging monster trope will find GB comfortably familiar. The acting is reasonable enough and there are a few points of interest (see below).

Cold War Angle
GB is yet another nuclear cautionary tale. The opening few minutes leave no doubt of that. Like Godzilla, the behemoth is metaphoric for what nuclear fallout will do to civilians. It is interesting that one more nuclear weapon is deemed the solution to the nuclear threat. That is Cold War thinking at its finest.

Hybrid Remake -- There more than a passing resemblance to the story line in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Like Godzilla, which itself was a reworking of the B20K story, the Behemoth is mutated into giant size by radiation and uses its radioactivity to kill. Also like Godzilla, Behemoth is a personification of deadly radiation. This time, it was London's turn to feel the rampage. From the extended shots of panicky civilians running, and the radiation burns, it is clear that the director is modeling what a nuclear attack on London would be like.

Beastly Trilogy -- Eugene Lourie directed Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, itself based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. GB was his second pass at the same story line (more or less). His pass a the third monster-on-the-loose story will be Gorgo in 1961. Interestingly, Lourie began his directing career with B20K and ended it with Gorgo.

Final Bow -- The stop-motion work was overseen by Wills O'Brien, who gained fame for his work on King Kong ('33). One of his pupils, Pete Peterson did most of the actual work. This was O'Brien's last public work. The stop motion work has moments of quality (such as the power line scene) but clearly rushed lesser-quality scenes, (such as the underwater swimming shots). GB was not O'Brien's crowning achievement. The puppet head shots and ferry scenes were not O'Brien's work.

Biblical Proportions -- Though nothing much is done with it, there is much quoting from the book of Job early in the film. Chapter 40 is where the creature called Behemoth is mentioned. In context, the biblical behemoth is not a terrifying tool of wrath or destruction. It is cited as a supremely huge, strong (land) animal. God uses behemoth as an object lesson. If He is powerful enough to create such a beast, and by extension how feeble Job is -- why does Job feel justified in telling God how the universe ought to be run?

Hit Me Again -- A little budget-saving bit of re-use is having the same model car being crushed footage used three times as Behemoth stomps up the streets.

Bottom line? GB is entertaining enough on its own, though not remarkably so. It does have some historical value for 50s sci-fi fans. For folks who like movies about giant monsters stomping up some major city, GB is a worthy installment.


Mike Scott said...

O'Brien did do some FX work after BEHEMOTH. The 1960 remake of "The Lost World" and "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (the out of control fire truck ladder sequence).

Unknown said...

Howdy Film Fanatics,

Yes, it is a sorta remake of "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms".

That aside, it is a fun movie.

Good plot line, good acting and good tempo.

Just remember, when you are hosing off a monster, vacuum up the water or Mama will follow you into London.

Don't forget the popcorn,