A look back at the golden age of sci-fi, the 1950‘s/early 60’s. Our subject today…
Pseudo-Dinosaurs Invade our cities: (aka: The dinosaur films of Eugene Lourie)
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
This is one of Harryhausen’s greatest creations. Eugene Lourie and Jack Dietz approached Harryhausen about creating a dinosaur for their creature feature film. He came up with the Rhedosaurus, a four-legged carnivore. Its head was T. Rex inspired and its body resembled a Komodo Dragon. They brought in Ray Bradbury to help write the screenplay, enabling them to encompass the lighthouse scene, which was a recreation of Bradbury’s story, The Foghorn Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. Thus, came about the title of the independently financed film. They sold the film to WB outright for a measly $4k, upon completion, never realizing that it would become a hallmark of 1950’s sci-fi and dinosaur invasion movies.
Nuclear testing releases the Beast from the artic Ice, where it was frozen in suspended animation for millions of years. A young scientist observing the blast sights the Beast but no one will believe what he claims to have seen. Working with a Paleontologist, he identifies the beast as the extinct dinosaur, Rhedosaurus. After a sighting in Nova Scotia, the beast emerges on the NYC seaport in all its glory, ready to trample its way through Manhattan. There, it stomps cars, eats a police officer, and when fired upon, crashes through buildings, toppling bricks and mortar upon the fleeing people. They finally corral the Beast in Coney Island and our scientist/hero climbs the Cyclone (roller coaster) to the top where he can shoot a poisonous radioactive isotope into an open wound on the Beast. The Beast dies as the Cyclone burns.
The foam latex rubber-over-armature beast model had some impressive detail which really brought the creature to life. Its stride, tail movements, skin textures, expression and eye movements were unique to Ray Harryhausen’s trademark work. Along with his rear projection and masking techniques, this work set him apart from others as the premier monster-maker for years to come. There are some fantastic special features on the dvd including, “the making of the beast” and “Harryhausen and Bradbury” about the working relationship these two men had and how it helped shape the 50’s sci-fi era. The Science: Rhedosaurus was never a real dinosaur. There was an homage to Rhedosaurus in Planet of Dinosaurs -1977. ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ – 1970, has a Dino that is often mistaken for a Rhedosaurus but was actually designed from a pic of a Scelidosaurus. Rhedosaurus had features and a design more associated with a giant reptile than dinosaurs.
The Giant Behemoth (1959)
It seems that Pete Peterson did a lot of stop motion in films as part of Willis O’Brien’s production team, therefore giving O’Bie credit in a lot of movies he did not actually animate. This one and The Black Scorpion are two examples. The film begins with nuclear testing in the deep ocean. Soon after, a fisherman from a small Scottish fishing village dies upon the shoreline with radioactive burns upon his skin and dead fish wash up upon the shore. Scientists, Dr. Steven Karnes sights some kind of serpent in his binoculars. Eventually, a giant carnivorous sauropod with a radioactive death-ray rises in the harbor of Great Britain. First the dino attacks a ferry in a not-so impressive scene where you can tell the monster is a puppet. But when Behemoth steps onto land it is a nice looking stop-animation Dino that stomps cars and tears down loading dock cranes. Best scenes include Behemoth attacking the power lines in an explosion of electric sparks and the dino knocking a building wall down, on top of cowering city folk. The fight against Behemoth is not all that impressive, we see a few stock scenes of moving troops and Navy ships but gunfire is actually limited. Behemoth meets his demise by a small submarine diving underwater and a torpedo hit into the soft lining of the monsters mouth.
Its not the greatest movie of its kind but there are reasons I like it. Firstly, there are not too many sauropod/brontosaurus style dinosaurs in movies. This one closely resembles a Brachiosaurus with longer front legs than rear. Behemoth was made with foam and rubber over armature, with scale impressions from perhaps an iguana pressed into the rubber outer coating. This made for a nice texture overall, but close-ups had much less detail and expression than the work by Harryhausen around that same time. Close-ups also showed some of the flaws in its design like the seams where the rubber parts connected. This film was also directed by Eugene Lourie. The Science: all sauropods were herbivores (no they didn’t even eat fish) and they lived out of the water their entire life.
A volcano rises in the ocean sending a shipping vessel aground upon a nearby island off the shore of Ireland. There, the crew discovers a legend that turns out to be a dinosaur, with fins on the sides of its head, alligator-like skin and red glowing eyes. They take the creature back to London for a Piccadilly Circus attraction. They corral and enclose it in a caged area where they sell tickets for its viewing to the general public. What they don’t know is that the dinosaur is a baby and big mamma dino is soon smashing London to bits in hot pursuit. As with most of the era’s sci-fi films, Gorgo is a little slow to start, but when it does, massive destruction abounds. Gorgo lays waste to Big-Ben, London Bridge and a half a dozen other British landmarks. Although it doesn’t breath fire like its Japanese counterpart, Gorgo makes up for it with sheer destruction, as it swats its big paws around, crushing the city to ruble. The military response is formidable and there is quite a bit of explosive firepower unleashed against the monster, although the film uses quite a bit of stock footage from the British Royal Navy. Gorgo finally finds Gorgo Jr. and both head out to sea, leaving the Brits to scratch their heads in wonderment.
This British film produced by the King Brothers and directed by Eugene Lourie (Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) is made with highly detailed miniatures and a guy in a suit. There is a lot of destruction in the film as Gorgo devastates the city of London. Gorgo was released during a lull in Godzilla films after the original ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Godzilla Raids Again’ (1955) but before ‘King Kong vs. Godzilla’ (1962). It beat Toho to the punch of putting out a film of this genre in Technicolor. It was first released in Japan (1960), where it was a huge hit, then released to the world-wide audience where it was a big box office attraction. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a really high-quality release of this film to be found on dvd or Blu-ray.
Update: since the posting of this article they have re-released Gorgo on dvd and BluRay, completely restored, and with special features worthy of the films contribution to sci-fi/monster filmdom
Amazingly, all three of these films were directed by Eugene Lourie. It is said that “Beast…” influenced Ishirō Honda into making “Godzilla” which in turn influenced the making of “Gorgo“. Naturally Godzilla/Gojira would fit quite well on this list, but I think a review of it would be redundant at this point in time.
Both Pete Peterson and Ray Harryhausen worked with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young. Soon after Ray branched out on his own, while Peterson stayed with O’Brien as part of his production team.
Ray Harryhausen ……………. Pete Peterson
Stay Away from these:
The Giant Claw
Even a die-hard monster movie fan like myself find it difficult to get through these films. Cartoon-ish monster designs and mediocre miniature modeling. There is just not enough monster action in either to make up for the poorly written story-lines.
And, here’s some pics from the three featured films: