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.
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.