IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

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beast from 20,000 fathoms poster

Return with me now to 1953, when the giant monster movie genre was still in its infancy, the year that saw the release of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).

Prior to THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS,  the world had seen KING KONG (1933), filled with eye-popping special effects by Willis O’Brien, who would go on to make Kong’s quickie (and inferior) sequel SON OF KONG (1933) and later MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the latter being significant because it introduced O’Brien’s young protegé, Ray Harryhausen, to the world.

Soon after MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Harryhausen was ready to strike out on his own, and he would provide the special effects for today’s movie, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, released a full twenty years after KING KONG, and so for two decades, the giant monster movie lay dormant.  That would change with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which pre-dated perhaps the most famous giant monster, Godzilla, by one year.  Of course, once GODZILLA (1954) stomped onto the world, and Toho Studios opened up the door to their Kaiju universe, giant monsters would never look back.

But it’s quite possible that Toho’s incredible world of monsters may not have happened without the success and influence of Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. And when I put Harryhausen’s name in front of the title, I realize he didn’t direct the movie— that job was handled by Eugene Lourie, who actually would go on to direct two other very significant giant monster movies, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured special effects by Willis O’Brien, and GORGO (1961)— but when you watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s his work that you remember, work that is always top-notch and phenomenal; in short, his name belongs in front of the movies he worked on.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is based on the short story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, who was good friends with Harryhausen.

The movie opens with atomic bomb tests being conducted in the Arctic.  When two scientists visit the scene after the blast to conduct tests, they are shocked to see a giant prehistoric beast roaming through the snow, causing an avalanche which kills one of the scientists.  This plot point, an atomic blast awaking a giant monster, which would become commonplace in the 1950s, was first introduced here in this movie, making THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS the first movie about a giant creature awakened by an atomic blast.

The surviving scientist, Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) tries in vain to convince people that he saw a live dinosaur.  Nesbitt eventually makes his way to Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), a prominent paleontologist, and his assistant Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) and tries to convince them as well, eventually producing enough evidence to get them on board.  However, his contact in the military, Colonel Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey)  isn’t so easily convinced.

But when the beast— identified by Professor Elson as a rhedosaurus—  attacks a lighthouse and eventually surfaces in the waters outside New York City, there’s no ignoring the situation.  The beast is very real.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is not only historically significant in that it’s the first of the 1950s giant monster movies, but it’s also an outstanding movie, one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

And the conversation about BEAST begins and ends with the work of Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen brought his “A” game to every movie that he worked on.  His stop-motion special effects are always top-notch.  A movie with inferior special effects by Ray Harryhausen does not exist.  The major reason for this of course is Harryhausen’s talent, but another reason is the time he spent on each movie.  Harryhausen never rushed his work, which is why, sadly, there weren’t more movies made with his stop-motion effects.  It often took him years to work on one movie.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is no exception.  It features superior special effects by Ray Harryhausen.  It also features one of the scariest and most memorable scenes from any giant monster movie period— the lighthouse scene.  Which comes as no surprise since this is the scene directly connected to Ray Bradbury’s short story, which was about a dinosaur attacking a lighthouse.

I first saw THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS on TV when I was probably eight years old or so, and the lighthouse scene gave me nightmares and stayed with me long afterwards. In this scene, there are two men in the closed-in confines of the lighthouse, and outside the protective walls, the beast emerges from the ocean, drawn by the light perhaps.  The men inside hear a noise, and look up to see the enormous face of the creature peering through the glass.  The beast then destroys the lighthouse before the men can escape, and as we learn later, eats them.  It’s a terrifying scene.

beast lighthouse

It’s also perfectly shot by director Lourie and Harryhausen.  The matting effect is near perfect, and without a DVD/Blu-ray to freeze fame, it would be very difficult for the naked eye in real-time to see where the real shots of the ocean and the matte shots of Harryhausen’s animation meet.  The chilling black and white photography helps here, and the whole scene is so well done it’s nearly seamless.  The lighthouse itself is also animated, as is the immediate island onto which the rhedosaurus climbs, but the surrounding ocean is not, as it’s the real thing.

There are a lot of other memorable scenes as well.  The rhedosaurus’ first appearance in the snowy Arctic is also quite chilling, and the ending of the film, which takes place by the rollercoaster on Coney Island is also noteworthy.

Beast - snow

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also has an interesting cast.  I could take or leave Paul Christian, whose real name was Paul Hubschmid, as lead hero Tom Nesbitt.  Likewise, Paula Raymond  is just OK as lead love interest Lee Hunter.

It’s the supporting cast that stands out in this one.  Cecil Kellaway does a fine job as the amiable Professor Elson.  Kellaway was a famous character actor with a ton of credits in a career that spanned from the 1930s through the 1970s, appearing in such movies as Disney’s THE SHAGGY DOG (1959) and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967).  Kellaway also appeared in two Universal monster movies and was memorable in both of them.  He played Inspector Sampson in the first Invisible Man sequel, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) in which he doggedly pursues Vincent Price’s Invisible Man, and he played the flamboyant magician Solvani in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940).

Kenneth Tobey plays Colonel Jack Evans.  Tobey of course played the lead hero Captain Patrick Hendry in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and he would play the lead again in Ray Harryhausen’s IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), which tells the tale of a giant monstrous octopus.  Tobey is excellent here in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS in a supporting role.

And yes, that’s Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Stone, the marksman given the daunting task of shooting the fatal radioactive isotope into the wound of the rhedosaurus.

Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger wrote the screenplay, based on the Bradbury short story.  It’s a decent screenplay as it tells a solid story, contains realistic dialogue, and creates sympathetic characters.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also features a compelling music score by David Buttolph.

So, the next time you’re enjoying a giant monster movie, especially one in the Godzilla/Toho/Kaiju universe, remember it might not have happened without the success of Ray Harryhausen’s rhedosaurus, aka THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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IN THE SHADOWS: TORIN THATCHER

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torin-thatcher

Torin Thatcher as the evil magician Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at the career of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today IN THE SHADOWS it’s Torin Thatcher, a character actor known mostly for his villainous roles.  I remember him most for his outstanding portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah in the classic fantasy film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) which also features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion special effects.

And when you watch a movie featuring Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, it’s usually those effects that you remember, not the actors in the film.  This is true with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with the exception of Torin Thatcher.  His work in 7TH VOYAGE is so strong you remember the magician Sokurah just as vividly as you do Harryhausen’s fantastic creatures.

Before he become an actor, Torin Thatcher was a school teacher.  How cool would that have been?  To have Sokurah the Magician as your teacher.  But seriously, I can only imagine how powerfully effective he must have been standing in a classroom teaching students.

Here now is a partial list of Torin Thatcher’s 150 film and TV credits:

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1927) – Solanio – Torin Thatcher’s first movie credit as Solanio in this silent short adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

NORAH O’NEALE (1934) – Dr. Hackey – Thatcher’s first screen credit in a feature-length movie.  Early drama starring Lester Matthews, known to horror fans for his work in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi classic THE RAVEN (1935).

SABOTEUR (1942) – uncredited appearance in this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) – Bentley Drummle – small role in the classic David Lean version of the Charles Dickens tale starring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson who played Elizabeth in the Boris Karloff classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and future Hammer Films stars from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) Martita Hunt and Freda Jackson.

THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) – Policeman – Plays a policeman in this classic mystery from director Carol Reed (Oliver Reed’s uncle) with a script by Graham Greene.

THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) – Humble Bellows – Swashbuckling pirate adventure starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Siodmak, the director of SON OF DRACULA (1943).  Also memorable for featuring a young Christopher Lee in a supporting role.

THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952) – Johnson – classic drama starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, and Leo G. Carroll.

THE DESERT RATS (1953) – Col. Barney White – Robert Wise-directed war movie starring Richard Burton and James Mason.

THE ROBE (1953) – Sen. Gallio – Biblical tale  of Roman tribune with a conscience starring Richard Burton and Michael Rennie.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) – Mr. Myers – Billy Wilder-directed Agatha Christie tale starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester.  Also features veteran character actor Una O’Connor, also from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – Sokurah the Magician – My favorite all-time Torin Thatcher role.  This classic fantasy adventures features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best special effects ever.  Who can ever forget his giant Cyclops?  In addition, it also features a rousing Bernard Herrmann score, one of my favorites.  The third outstanding element of this movie is Torin Thatcher’s performance as Sokurah.  It’s a rare occurrence indeed in a Ray Harryhausen movie for anything to be as memorable as his creature effects, but Torin Thatcher achieves this feat.  He’s just as memorable in this film as Harryhausen’s effects.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1957-59) – Constable Johnson – “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” (1957)/ Felix Edward Manbridge – “Relative Value” – appearances in two episodes of the classic Alfred Hitchcock TV series.

THRILLER (1961) – Jeremy Teal – “Well of Doom” – appearance in the classic horror anthology TV show hosted by Boris Karloff.

JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) – Pendragon – Once again playing the villain in a fantasy adventure.  Thatcher is reunited with 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD director Nathan Juran and lead actor Kerwin Matthews who played Sinbad in 7TH VOYAGE and plays Jack here, but missing this time around is Ray Harryhausen and his fantastic creatures, resulting in inferior special effects.

GET SMART (1966) – Dr. Braam – “All In the Mind” (1966) – appearance in the classic Mel Brooks TV series starring Don Adams as Secret Agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.

LOST IN SPACE (1966) – The Space Trader- “The Space Trader” (1966)- plays a villain in this Season 1 episode of the Irwin Allen science fiction adventure TV show.  Trades with the Robinson family, takes advantage of Dr. Smith’s greed and makes him his slave, only to be eventually outsmarted by the Robinson Robot.  Way to go, bubble headed booby!

STAR TREK (1967) – Marplon- “The Return of the Archons” (1967) – appearance in this Season 1 episode of the classic TV series chronicling the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy aboard the starship Enterprise.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968) – Sir John Turnbull – TV movie version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale, produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHT STALKER (1971).  Starring Jack Palance as a very sinister Mr. Hyde.

LAND OF THE GIANTS (1970) – Dr. Berger – “Nightmare” (1970) – appearance in this Irwin Allen fantasy TV show.

NIGHT GALLERY ( 1971) – Captain of the Lusitania – “Lone Survivor” (1971) – appearance in the horror anthology series by Rod Serling.

BRENDA STARR ( 1976) – Lassiter- Torin Thatcher’s last screen credit is in this TV movie adventure involving extortion, voodoo, and the supernatural.  Starring Jill St. John.

Thatcher passed away on March 4, 1981 at the age of 76 from cancer.

Torin Thatcher – January 15, 1905 – March 4, 1981.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS.  Join me next time when we look at the career of another classic character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN

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THE HORROR JAR:  Music by Bernard Herrmann

By Michael Arruda

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann

 

 

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Bernard Herrmann, the prolific film composer who composed music for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies during the 1940s-1970s, especially for director Alfred Hitchcock, wrote some of my favorite genre film scores.  He scored nine of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including his most famous for PSYCHO (1960), and interestingly enough none of his Hitchcock scores were ever nominated for Oscars.

Herrmann started in radio, scoring Orson Welles’ radio shows in the 1930s, including his infamous “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938.

Herrmann’s final film score was for Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976).  He was supposed to score Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) but died of a heart attack just before he was start work on the film.  He was 64.

Here’s a partial look at the movies Herrmann provided music for, focusing mostly on genre films:

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles

Kane:  Orson Welles

Jedediah Leland:  Joseph Cotten

Susan Alexander Kane:  Dorothy Comingore

Emily Kane:  Ruth Warrick

Mary Kane:  Agnes Moorehead

Running Time:  119 minutes

Bernard Herrmann’s first movie score. Not a bad way to start one’s career, scoring music for arguably the greatest movie ever made.

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)

Directed by William Dieterle

Screenplay by Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet

Daniel Webster:  Edward Arnold

Mr. Scratch:  Walter Huston

Running Time:  107 minutes

Herrmann’s second movie score earned him his first and only Academy Award for Best Music Score.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Orson Welles and Booth Tarkington

Eugene Morgan:  Joseph Cotten

Running Time:  88 minutes

Working with Orson Welles’ again in this troubled production which suffered from major studio meddling and last minute edits and changes.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick

Lucy Muir:  Gene Tierney

Captain Daniel Gregg:  Rex Harrison

Miles Farley:  George Sanders

Running Time:  104 minutes

Herrmann’s personal favorite music score.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

Directed by Robert Wise

Screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates

Klaatu:  Michael Rennie

Helen Benson:  Patricia Neal

One of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores.  His music completely captures the otherworldly mood of this classic science fiction masterpiece about an alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who travels to Earth to warn humankind that unless they give up their warring ways, they will face destruction by a superior race, and to give credence to his words Klaatu brings along his all-powerful robot Gort.  This thought-provoking drama is science fiction at its best.

Herrmann’s score here was later used in several episodes of the TV series LOST IN SPACE.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD poster

Directed by Nathan Juran

Screenplay by Kenneth Kolb

Sinbad:  Kerwin Mathews

Princess Parisa:  Kathryn Grant

Sokurah the Magician:  Torin Thatcher

Special Visual Effects by Ray Harryhausen

Running Time:  88 minutes

This just might be my all-time favorite Bernard Herrmann music score.  Rousing and adventurous from start to finish, it’s the type of score that’ll stick with you long after you’ve seen the movie.  Some of Herrmann’s best work is in movies featuring the special animation effects of Ray Harryhausen.

VERTIGO (1958)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

John Ferguson:  James Stewart

Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton:  Kim Novak

Midge Wood:  Barbara Bel Geddes

Running Time:  128 minutes

Provides the music for one of Hitchcock’s best films, the tale of a retired San Francisco police detective (James Stewart) suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) who becomes entangled in a bizarre murder plot.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Roger Thornhill:  Cary Grant

Eve Kendall:  Eva Marie Saint

Phillip Vandamm: James Mason

Running Time:  136 minutes

With apologies to his work on PSYCHO, this just might be my favorite Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  His rousing music in this film also ranks among his best work, period.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)

Directed by Henry Levin

Screenplay by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook:  James Mason

Alec McKuen:  Pat Boone

Carla Goetabaug:  Arlene Dahl

Count Saknussemm:  Thayer David

Running Time:  132 minutes

Another of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores, but seriously, I can say that about nearly every score he wrote.  This fantasy film adventure based on the work of Jules Verne is 1950s filmmaking at its best:  colorful, elaborate, and entertaining throughout.

PSYCHO (1960)

Directed by Alfred HitchcockPsycho poster

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates:  Anthony Perkins

Marion Crane:  Janet Leigh

Lila Crane:  Vera Miles

Sam Loomis:  John Gavin

Detective Arbogast:  Martin Balsam

Running Time:  109 minutes

Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous shocker, and arguably Bernard Herrmann’s most famous music score as well.  Likewise, it contains Hitchcock’s most famous and most studied scene, the shower scene, which also contains Herrmann’s most famous piece of music, the loud shrill of violins as the shadowy murderer strikes down poor Janet Leigh in the shower.  Hitchcock originally wanted no music in this scene, which actually makes a lot of sense and would have worked, making the scene raw and brutal, but Herrmann argued that it needed music, and how can anyone argue with the end result?  A rare example of one brief scene capturing the finest instances of artistry of two separate artists at the same time, as both Hitchcock and Herrmann produce their signature moments in this scene.

Arguably the most famous and recognizable horror movie score of all time.

THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960)

Directed by Jack Sher

Screenplay by Jack Sher and Arthur A. Ross, based on “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver:  Kerwin Mathews

Gwendolyn:  Jo Morrow

Elizabeth: June Thorburn

Running Time:  100 minutes

Once again providing music for a film with special animation effects by Ray Harryhausen.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

Directed by Cy Endfield

Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Captain Cyrus Harding:  Michael Craig

Lady Mary Fairchild:  Joan Greenwood

Herbert Brown:  Michael Callan

Gideon Spilitt:  Gary Merrill

Captain Nemo:  Herbert Lom

Running Time:  101 minutes

Once again reunited with Ray Harryhausen, and once again one of Herrmann’s most memorable scores. This entertaining adventure about Civil War soldiers stranded on an island with oversized creatures is must-see viewing.  The first twenty minutes, involving a daring escape from a Confederate prison, is riveting and suspenseful, complimented in full by Herrmann’s rousing music, and this is all before they even land on the island!

CAPE FEAR (1962)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Screenplay by James R. Webb, based on the novel by John D. Macdonald

Sam Bowden:  Gregory Peck

Max Cady:  Robert Mitchum

Peggy Bowden:  Polly Bergen

Running Time:  105 minutes

Classic thriller about murder and revenge was a financial flop upon its initial release.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Directed by Don Chaffey

Screenplay by Jan Read and Beverley Cross

Jason:  Todd Armstrong

Argos:  Laurence Naismith

Running Time:  104 minutes

Reunited once again— and for the last time— with Ray Harryhausen, and yes, once more, another exceedingly memorable film score.  This one contains the classic sword fight between Jason and his men and Harryhausen’s animated skeletons.  The scene also includes some of Hermann’s best music.

THE BIRDS (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Evan Hunter, based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier

Melanie Daniels:  Tippi Hedrin

Mitch Brenner:  Rod Taylor

Annie Hayworth:  Suzanne Pleshette

Running Time:  119 minutes.

But, there’s no music in THE BIRDS.  True.  Herrmann served as a sound consultant for this movie.  Supposedly it was his idea not to have music in THE BIRDS.

MARNIE (1964)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on the novel by Winston Graham

Marnie:  Tippi Hedren

Mark Rutland:  Sean Connery

Running Time:  130 minutes

This Hitchcock drama was considered a misfire on its initial release, but its reputation has grown steadily over the decades.

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)

Directed by Francois Truffaut

Screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse/Linda Montag:  Julie Christie

Guy Montag:  Oskar Werner

Running Time:  112 minutes.

Classic novel; not so classic movie.

SISTERS (1973)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma and Louisa Rose

Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion:  Margot Kidder

Joseph Larch:  Charles Durning

Running Time:  93 minutes

Early Brian De Palma thriller.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen

Screenplay by Larry Cohen

Frank Davies:  John P. Ryan

Running Time: 91 minutes

Campy horror movie about a killer baby was a hit in the summer of 1974.

OBSESSION (1976)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Michael Courtland:  Cliff Robertson

Elizabeth Courtland/Sandra Portinari

Robert Lasalle:  John Lithgow

Running Time:  98 minutes

De Palma thriller with shades of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.  Herrmann’s score was nominated for an Oscar.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Travis Bickle:  Robert De Niro

Iris:  Jodie Foster

Running Time:  113 minutes

Classic Scorsese film earned Oscar nominations for stars De Niro and Foster, as well as Bernard Herrmann who was nominated twice in the same year. Herrmann lost out to Jerry Goldsmith for his score for THE OMEN.  Herrmann’s final movie score.

Herrmann died of a heart attack on December 24, 1975, just hours after he had finished the score for TAXI DRIVER.  He was 64.

Bernard Herrmann enjoyed a long and prolific career.  For me, I will always associate his music with the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen and the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, and if I had to pick my three favorite Herrmann scores, they would be NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Bernard Herrmann

June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

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The Beast comes ashore looking for a tasty midnight snack inside the lighthouse.

To the folks inside the lighthouse:  now might not be the best time to look out the window.  You might not like what you see.  It’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, coming ashore for a tasty midnight snack.

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

 

This image is from the lighthouse scene in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), the classic giant monster movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen.  For my money, this is one of the scarier giant monster movies from the 1950s, and this scene is particularly frightening.

It’s nighttime, and the beast crawls out of the ocean and approaches the lighthouse.  The folks inside hear a strange noise— I remember as kid watching this on TV thinking, Get out of there!  Get out of there now!  They look out the window and see the massive beast staring at them.  It then proceeds to attack the lighthouse.

I grew up close to the ocean, so this scene has always creeped me out, as I used to imagine the Beast crawling out of the ocean at night.  Shivers!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) is significant because it was Ray Harryhausen’s first solo feature film effort, the first film where the special animation effects were created solely by Harryhausen.  Previously, in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), he had worked under the guidance of his mentor, KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien.

 

It was also the first major “giant monster” movie since KING KONG (1933), as it pre-dated GODZILLA (1954) by a year, and it’s said to have been one of the major influences behind the making of GODZILLA, released in the United States in 1956 as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!

 

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen films, and features many memorable images, including the beast’s first appearance in the snowy Arctic, the devouring of the police officer on the streets of New York City, the exciting climax at the Coney Island roller coaster, and this frightening image of the beast about to attack the lighthouse.

 

It’s based on the story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, who was a close friend of Harryhausen’s.

 

Enjoy!

 

—-Michael

 


IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

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Mysterious Island posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, now appearing in the June issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

We lost a master of the genre when Ray Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

No one created stop-motion animation effects better than Ray Harryhausen.  His list of credits is extensive, from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) to his final feature CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), to name just a few.  The most impressive thing about Harryhausen’s movies is they are all quality credits.  A Ray Harryhausen movie with poor special effects doesn’t exist.  He brought his “A” game every time.  Considering how long Harryhausen would spend on these effects, sometimes taking several years to complete a project, it’s no surprise the results were always exceptional.

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT we look at the Ray Harryhausen movie MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961).

Loosely based on the novel by Jules Verne (very loosely), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND takes place during the American Civil War.  A group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison using a hot air balloon.  The balloon gets blown off course, and the soldiers suddenly find themselves half way across the world where they crash land on a mysterious island.

Led by their captain, Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) they forage for food and struggle to survive as they fight off various giant creatures, including a gigantic crab, a scene that is one of the movie’s highlights.  When a small boat washes ashore carrying two women, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan) they are welcomed into the camp and join forces to try to find a way off the island.  Their presence also offers a romantic subplot between Elena and young dashing soldier Herbert Brown (Michael Callan).

Things grow even more mysterious when a man emerges from the ocean, and lo and behold, it’s Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA fame.  Nemo provides some dramatic revelations both about his history— his submarine the Nautilus is stationed in a watery cave beneath the island— and the future of the island, a future that spells doom for anyone who remains there.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is a neat adventure, the kind of movie that grabs you at the outset and never lets go, providing thrills, chills and solid entertainment throughout.  Sure, it slows down in its second half, but it still manages to please, and that’s because in addition to Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, the movie also features an energetic music score by Bernard Herrmann, fine acting performances, and a crisp script by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur.

It gets off to a rousing start, as the movie opens with the soldiers’ thrilling escape from the Confederate prison, and then jumps right into their hazardous balloon flight through a torrential storm.  You don’t get a chance to catch your breath until they finally crash land on the island, and that’s when the fun really begins.

Some of the highlights in this one include the aforementioned colossal crab sequence, brilliantly brought to life by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects.  That’s a real crab, too!  No, Harryhausen didn’t give it acting lessons. He gutted it and fitted it with the mechanisms needed to animate it, so it’s not a model built by Harryhausen, but the exoskeleton of a real crab.

Other Harryhausen creations in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND include an oversized bird, monster bees, and a giant squid.  The special effects also include an impressive backdrop of the island’s volcano, and the ruins of an undersea city, not to mention the Nautilus submarine.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is potent as always.  While I prefer his score to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, this one’s a close second.  It’s a major part of the movie, especially during the opening twenty minutes, when so much is happening.  It really complements the action.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND also has fine acting performances.  Michael Craig makes a strong, likeable Captain Harding, while Michael Callan and Beth Rogan make an attractive romantic couple.

Probably my favorite performance in the film belongs to Gary Merrill as reporter Gideon Spilitt.  Gideon represents the film’s moral conscience and gets to spout off commentary about the war and human nature in general.

Percy Herbert is also memorable as Sgt. Pencroft, the Confederate soldier who gets trapped on the balloon with the Union soldiers.  Once they get to the island, they put aside their differences in the interest of survival.

And then there’s Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo.  I’m a big fan of Herbert Lom’s, and there’s really nothing wrong with his performance here, as he lends credibility to the proceedings, but his Captain Nemo isn’t in the movie very much, and truth be told, there just isn’t a lot for him to do here.  James Mason in the Disney film 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) made a much more memorable Captain Nemo.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND does slow down as it goes along.  I guess this is inevitable, since the first half of the movie rocks, with the prison escape, the balloon ride, and the crab battle.  The giant bird sequence is quite good, but by the time you reach the bee scene and the battle with the pirates, director Cy Endfield seems to have run out of creative ideas, and these sequences are handled with less inspiration than the previous scenes.  And the underwater battle with the monstrous squid towards the end is not that exciting.

Of the three screenwriters, only Crane Wilbur had genre credits, as he wrote the screenplay for several Vincent Price films including HOUSE OF WAX (1953), THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954), and THE BAT (1959).

Where does MYSTERIOUS ISLAND rank in terms of Ray Harryhausen’s work?  As I said earlier, Harryhausen brought his “A” game to each and every movie he ever made, so in terms of the quality of his special effects, they’re just as good here as they are in all his movies.

I’d rate the crab sequence as one of the top five sequences he ever created.  It’s up there with the skeleton battle in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), the Medusa scene in CLASH OF THE TITANS, the Kali fight in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), and the lassoing of the T-Rex in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969).

You really can’t go wrong with any of the movies Ray Harryhausen lent his name to.  That’s a testament to the amount of talent he brought to the table.  Yet, strangely, none of his movies ever won an Academy Award for special effects.  Go figure.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is grand entertainment.  It’s a movie that won’t leave you crabby.

—END—

My EBook IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 “In The Spooklight” movie columns, is available at http://www.neconebooks.com.

—Michael

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD – The Quintessential Ray Harryhausen Movie

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7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD posterIn memory of Ray Harryhausen, here’s a reprint of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), one of Harryhausen’s best and my personal favorite.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

Forgive me for never having grown up.

I love movie monsters.  From the classics to the films of today, I can’t get enough of them.

In horror movie history, one name stands above the rest when it comes to making movie monsters, Ray Harryhausen.  In a career that spanned 30 years, from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen provided us with some of the best stop-motion animated special effects ever put on film, and while there have been many classics thanks to Harryhausen, the quintessential Harryhausen movie has to be THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is a beautiful production shot in Technicolor with picture perfect pizzazz by director Nathan Juran, who also directed Ray Harryhausen’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), as well as other genre films such as THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

In THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) must travel to the far ends of the earth to the Island of Colossus on a mission to save his beloved princess (Kathryn Grant).  The princess is doing her best “incredible shrinking woman” impression, shrunk down in size by the evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher).  Along the way, Sinbad must square off against giant birds, a dragon, a sword wielding skeleton, and more than one giant Cyclops.

While there are many enduring images from this movie, there’s probably none stronger than Harryhausen’s creation of the giant Cyclops.  Once seen, you will not forget it.  From its muscular body, cloven hands and feet, and grotesque face, for the horror fan, he’s a keeper!  (“Hey, mom, look who I brought home!”).

The script by Kenneth Kolb is OK, not memorable by any means, but it does its job in setting up a rip-roaring adventure that is fun to watch.  The acting is also OK, with Torin Thatcher leading the way, delivering by far the best performance in the movie as Sokurah, the evil magician.  Thatcher, who died in 1981, is most memorable here because he’s the one player in this movie who makes you forget about Harryhausen’s creatures while he’s on screen, and that’s saying something.  His Sokurah is one of my favorite genre movie villains.

Bernard Herrmann wrote the memorable music score, one of his best other than PSYCHO (1960).  It’s a rousing piece of film music that you’ll be humming to yourself long after you’ve seen the movie.

But the true star of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is Ray Harryhausen.  His creatures here look fantastic, and we are treated to all sorts of spectacular scenes, including an exciting battle between one of the Cyclops and the giant dragon.  There’s also a memorable duel between Sinbad and a sword wielding skeleton, a scene improved upon five years later by Harryhausen in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), where the choreographed fight involved a bunch of skeletons.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD boasts some of the best stop-motion animated special effects in motion picture history, and is right up there with the work of Willis O’Brien in the all-time best, KING KONG (1933).  It’s also among the best of the Sinbad movies, though it’s hard to crown it king because Harryhausen struck gold again nearly twenty years later with his follow-up feature, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) which is every bit as good as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

So, this summer, go ahead and be a kid again, and enjoy THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.  Just don’t let me catch you playing with that Cyclops toy you picked up on eBay last month!

(July 2008)

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You can read all my SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook now available from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.

—Michael

RAY HARRYHAUSEN Stop-Motion Animation Master Passes at 92

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Ray Harryhausen with some "friends" from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

Ray Harryhausen with some “friends” from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN

By

Michael Arruda

Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a con in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience— besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him— was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories.  It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen.  It was about the story.  It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time.  On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.

Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves.  Of course, it helped that he was a master animator.  His movie creations are like no others.  He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.

To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.

From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal.  O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king.  He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects.  Simply put, he was the best at it.

And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962).  The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS  is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.

Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) – other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies.  Fiery climax in which Joe rescues children from burning building is must-see cinema!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) – rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever.  Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster.  That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster.

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) – Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.!   See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – attack of the Ymir!  Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus, one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations, the Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – my pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time.  It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) – that animated crab is the real thing!  Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.

-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) – my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie.  The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) – I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) – Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best.

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)-  Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) – released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects.  Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)- Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence.

In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name.  He should be.

For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen.  The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen.  They are the real deal.  Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.

To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world.

You will be missed.

—Michael