It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955): A Horror Movie Review

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) starring Kenneth TobeyIt Came from Beneath the Sea Movie Review

Over the last couple of years I’ve gradually been overcoming my lifelong aversion to science-fiction films by watching some of the classics of the genre. In 2011 I saw both War of the Worlds (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), followed this year by It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

On this Friday evening I delved into ’50s sci-fi once more by watching It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), a Ray Harryhausen film which I found quite entertaining. I particularly liked the film’s storytelling balance between its strong leads and the science fiction/special effects aspect; there was room for interesting characters along with the giant octopus.

Submarine Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) is as baffled as anyone when his submarine tangles with a giant sea monster while on a shakedown cruise off the West Coast of the United States.

Scientists Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) determine that the creature was some form of octopus. Although initially the military brass are dubious of the scientists’ work, the creature soon terrorizes residents of Oregon and California, particularly San Francisco. The race is on to find a way to kill the giant octopus once and for all.

The climactic battle against the sea monster is very well done, as its tentacles destroy the Golden Gate Bridge and then reach into San Francisco, toppling buildings and threatening to destroy the city. Though primitive by modern standards, the effects remain very effective, particularly during the final confrontation between submarine and octopus. In a number of the San Francisco scenes people fall down as they’re running away, a touch right out of scary nightmares. I especially loved the courageous army men using flame throwers to chase the octopus back into the sea!

For me the most interesting aspect of the film was Faith Domergue’s very liberated character, who is devoted to her career and also enjoys being wooed by both Tobey and Curtis. When Tobey rather arrogantly thinks she’ll change some of her career plans after he sweeps her off her feet with a romantic evening, he’s got a surprise coming! She also insists on staying around to help as the monster approaches San Francisco, rather than being sent to safety.It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

I believe I’ve only seen Domergue previously in Escort West (1958); it’s a little Western I liked a lot, but Domergue was outshone in that one by Elaine Stewart as her more likeable sister. Domergue’s credits also included the film noir classic Where Danger Lives (1950) and the sci-fi title This Island Earth (1955). During the ’50s she was married to director Hugo Fregonese.

Kenneth Tobey is an actor about whom I know even less than Domergue, which is interesting given that he had over 200 film and TV credits! His sci-fi roles included The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). He’s quite interesting in this, a little overly confident in his approach to Domergue, as well as old-fashioned in his approach to her career and abilities, yet he’s also a man you want to have commanding a submarine when it goes up against a giant octopus! He’s quick-thinking and doesn’t hesitate to put his own life on the line.

When I saw Donald Curtis, I was amused to suddenly realize that he played the doctor who treats Tootie after her Halloween hijinks in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). I just saw him last week in the large cast of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1954). Curtis’s career spanned over a quarter-century, with over 100 screen credits. In It Came from Beneath the Sea he’s interesting as a man who’s forward-thinking in his appreciation of women’s roles; he seems to have some romantic interest in his colleague Domergue, yet is sanguine when she is courted by Tobey. Curtis also has two of the most heroic moments in the film, racing onto the imperiled Golden Gate Bridge and later saving Tobey’s life in an underwater battle with the octopus.

This movie was directed by Robert Gordon. The cinematographer was Henry Freulich. The film’s supporting cast includes Ian Keith, Chuck Griffiths, Harry Lauter, and Tol Avery. It runs 79 minutes.

Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast.  Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005. 

  • Tony Payne

    The Sci Fi films of the 50’s were great entertainment and in the main free of gratuitous gore that we see in some films today. For teenagers at the time they were great fun. My personal top four would be:

    Invasion of the body snatchers
    Thing from another world
    The incredible shrinking man

    Just a few from a top genre.

    • Gord

      Fully agree with your comments and top four altho I might make it a top five by including “The Day the Earth Stood Stil.”

      • Ganderson

        I agree with Tony Payne and Gord that those five films represent the ‘must-see’ list for Sci-fi flicks out of the 1950’s.  All five present excellent stories that alternate between between being thoughtful, on the one hand, and down-right scary on the other. There’s nothing cheesy or dated in these films – IOTBS and TFAW are still very capable of producing nightmares and TDTESS and TISM are just plain good story-telling and are both very touching.  ‘Them’ is something of a sleeper in that it doesn’t immediately impress as excellent cinema, but the story and acting are first-rate.  I hope Laura G. continues her exploration of the genre — it’s one of the broadest canvasses available to movie makers.

  • Mike

    also,  War of the worlds, and I believe the title was Invaders from mars. great movies from the 50’s

  • OZ ROB

    You may also enjoy, The Man From Planet X,,1951..a low budget but very atmospheric tale of alien visitor from Edgar G Ulmer…

  • Blair kramer

    In my MOVIE FANFARE article about the films of Ray Harryhausen,  IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA was the one Harryhausen film that I panned. That’s because the film has sloppy SFX. Displaced water effects and a plainly transparent undersea frogman didn’t much help the illusion.  I suspect Harryhausen wasn’t given enough time to perfect his work on the film.  In any case,  IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA remains a disappointment.  Other than that,  it’s great!

  • Jan

    Please continue your exploration!!!  I have been a life long lover of those wonderful movie monsters from the 50’s and 60’s.  I have as many of them as I have been able to get hold of on DVD and watch them frequently.  I sometimes make a whole weekend of doing just that.  In fact, I watched It Came From Beneath the Sea yesterday and enjoyed it just as much this time as I did the first time I ever saw it.  Don’t forget to include The Beast From 20,000 Fathams to your future veiwing.

  • GrizzledGeezer

    “It Came from Beneath the Sea” is the only Harryhausen film that can be honestly labeled “bad”. It has a boring, humorless script, and only a single creature (that I recall). The cephalopod seems to have “eyebrows” that suggest a resemblance to John L Lewis or Edward Teller. Watching it tear down the Golden Gate bridge is fun, but that’s about it. It’s the only Harrayhausen that I have no desire to ever see again.

    • Markht

      Bah, HUMBUG!  OK it’s not a GREAT film but it’s still a fun film. “Boring?”  no way.

  • GrizzledGeezer

    As suggested by another poster, you definitely should see “The Man from Planet X”, It was shot in six days on a set left over from a film about Joan of Arc. I particularly like the scene in which William Schallert, in an uncharacteristically nasty role, beats the **** out of the alien — who deserves it, because he’s Up To No Good.

  • Debbie

    Loved “It came From Beneath the Sea”! Love any sci-fi from the 50’s.

  • Fbusch

    Don’t forget the very forgettable sifi thriller at the naval station at the salton sea about giant slugs with crab jaws coming out of under sea caverns to terrorize the irrigation system near indio.
    Also your trivia for the day; The Beast from 20,000 fathoms, so impressed the japanese that they invented Godzilla to scare their audiences. Then, they contracted with raymond burr to film studio scenes to make the film more attractive to u.s. audiences. all in the space of 4 years. So, I guess that makes The Beast the first Godzilla flick. By the bye, the only actor I recognized was Lee Van Cleef, (the marksman). When watching these old ’50’s flicks, you should keep an eye out for actors who later become wellknown. (I’ve got all 3 of the creature from the black lagoon films), and true to form, each sequel gets poorer. Rocky 23 anyone?

    • Markht

      I remember the film with the sea slugs in the Salton sea—in fact I have it on DVD.  Scared me ***** as a kid.  Still a nice film and it’s pretty well made.  The effects stand up well today.

      • William Sommerwerck

         “It Conquered the World” — well, a tiny bit of it, anyway. Definitely a plausible and effective monster.

  • Fbusch

    All kidding aside, I love all these old clunkers and still watch most whenever I can. Wondering what they would look like with todays techknology.

  • Markht

    As an early Harryhausen film “It Came From Beneath the Sea” has its defects, like the transparent frogmen.  It was a tight budget.  Ray Harryhausen himself discussed in interviews some of its other cost-saving devices.  It wasn’t really an “Octopus” it was a “Hexapus.”  It had six arms, not eight.  There is no such thing as a “Hexapus” but I guess the creature had to give up something in the mutation process that made it so big.
    Plus, by eliminating two arms, Harryhausen sped up the animating process and thus saved time and money.
    Plus it’s not a glaring mistake.
    But I’ve always enjoyed this film from the time I first saw it on TV as a kid. 

  • Henrycaron525

    It Came From Beneth The Sea is one of my favorite Harryhausen flicks. It has some very tense moments like the Golden Gate Bridge scene and also the opening scene when they are tracking the monster on radar coming at the sub. Kenneth Tobey is always great in this type of film. Ray Harryhausen’s work creating the octopus with only six tentacles. Harryhausen says he didn’t have a big enough budget to make it with the proper number, so he used innovative ways to cover up the missing appendages.
    Overall one of the better 50s Sci-Fi/Horror flicks.
    Marty C.
    Palmer, MA.

  • jbourne5181

    really liked this movie and I’m a big Kenneth Tobey fan. he was terrific in The Thing and no matter how many times hollywood tries to remake this original classic, the only one who even comes close is John Carpenter. what’s so great about the original is the tight and well written dialogues between all of the characters and it stays that way throughout the entire film