Following the success of the landmark THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen met with Columbia Pictures executive Charles Schneer and a historic celluloid partnership was born. While not as triumphant as his fantasy epics such as THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA is an engrossing, superior B-level sci-fi flick which was released during an era when oversized atomic terrors were all the rage in Hollywood.
An atomic-powered submarine under the command of Navy officer Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey) is attacked by an unknown entity. After struggling with whatever is out there, the sub finally manages to get free and make its way back to Pearl Harbor. It is there that divers discover a strange matter jammed in the sub's blades. Marine biologist Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue) and her colleague Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) are brought in to investigate, and they identify the findings as part of a giant octopus which likely surfaced from deep within the ocean after H-bomb testings.
Soon, the navy and the scientists further their investigation of this supposed creature, but they are too late to save a cargo ship with only three survivors, a family relaxing on the beach, and a local sheriff played by character favorite Harry Lauter. Eventually, the octopus appears on dry land, making a massive mess of San Francisco.
Put in the perspective of their time, Harryhausen's stop-motion visual effects are excellent, mostly represented by colossal tentacles which smash through building windows and squash a string of panicked pedestrians. An entire octopus is shown from time to time (mostly during a climactic underwater sequence), and the now-famous legend is that the budget only allowed for six tentacles, rather than the appropriate eight--a memorable anecdote that's been mentioned a zillion times!
As for the film itself, it's a solid B programmer, with a kicker of an ending. It's only flaws are a rather talky first half and stuffy "news reporter" narration to explain things--a common enhancement to 50s science fiction films. Some of the overused stock footage seems to date back to the 30s, looking highly dated by mid-50s standards. Well cast is 50s sci-fi hero Kenneth Tobey (who sadly passed away late last year) as the brave navy man who loves his cigarettes, T-bone steaks, and Faith Domergue. The lovely-eyed Domergue is great as the female scientist who's a sensible feminist, but not afraid to flaunt her low-cut evening gown to pry information out of a sailor.
Director Robert Gordon later helmed the rarely-seen Michael Gough thriller, BLACK ZOO (1963) and the film was co-written by George Worthing Yates (responsible for a number of 50s sci-fi titles, as well as the Anglo cut of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) and Hal Smith. Smith is actually the actor best known for his portrayal of boozer Otis Campbell on numerous episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show," as well as supplying the voice for Goliath (and several other characters) on the lovable 60s stop-action animated series, "Davey and Goliath."
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA is the final entry in Columbia TriStar's "Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection," as the studio has now released all of their properties attached to the effects master. For the first time on home video, the film has been released in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Anamorphic enhancement. The black & white transfer is very pleasing, with nice detail with fine grain in spots. Overall the image is very clean, with some minor dirt and speckling apparent from time to time. The accurate framing thankfully removes enormous headroom and dead space seen in the full frame versions (as well as the trailer included here), but Harryhausen obviously designed his effects with a more generous aperture in mind, so some of these shots come off as a bit tight--but nothing drastic in the least. As for audio, the mono track is crisp and free of any noticeable distortion, and dialog only appeared a bit low during the opening submarine scene. Subtitles are optional in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai.
There are supplements on the disc, but the main extras here have already been included on previous discs in this collection. "The Harryhausen Chronicles" is an excellent, recent documentary hosted by Leonard Nimoy and "This is Dynamation" is a vintage extended trailer centered around THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Also included are trailers for several Harryhausen titles, as well as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. (George R. Reis)
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