June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013
Go here for R.I.P.: Ray Harryhausen, Part I (Biography)
The Lost World
(1925, dir. Harry O. Hoyt)
1925 Promotional Film to The Lost World:
OK, we admit that Ray Harryhausen had nothing to do with this film here or the next one presented in this career review.... But the fact is that this film here and the later King Kong are the films that inspired Ray Harryhausen to begin experimenting with puppets and effects — had these films never been, there may have been a Harryhausen but it is highly likely there would never have been any Harryhausen films. This film here, and the one below, were so influential in creating the man that made the films that we feel they, too, deserve recognition and presentation — and thus they are here.
The plot of The Lost World, as told by Ron Kerrigan (email@example.com) at imdb: "Explorer Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery of The Big House )) is taking quite a beating in the London press thanks to his claim that living dinosaurs exist in the far reaches of the Amazon. Newspaper reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes of The Drums of Jeopardy [1931 / full film]) learns that this claim originates from a diary given to him by fellow explorer Maple White's daughter, Paula (Bessie Love). Malone's paper funds an expedition to rescue Maple White, who has been marooned at the top of a high plateau. Joined by renowned hunter John Roxton (Lewis Stone of The Unknown Man [1951 / trailer]), and others, the group goes to South America, where they do indeed find a plateau inhabited by pre-historic creatures, one of which they even manage to bring back to London with them."
The Lost World, which was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1998, is a silent film version of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. Doyle appears in the opening scene to the film — though the scene is often cut from available versions. In fact, the film that Harryhausen saw is long gone: bits and pieces were cut and lost over the years, as were the original negatives of the original ten reel release, and even the long version now being preserved is actually a cut and paste restoration done using materials from a variety of location, including the Czech Republic.
The Lost World could well be the masterpiece of its director, Harry O. Hoyt (6 August 1885 - 29 July 1961), an American screenwriter (among others: Lady in the Death House [1944 / full film] and The Missing Corpse [1945 / full film]) and director whose last feature film as director is the quaintly titillating pre-Code adventure flick Jungle Bride (1933 / full film). His brother, the prolific character actor Arthur Hoyt (seen in the background of films such as The Raven [1935 / trailer], The Ninth Guest [1934 / full film], Fury [1936 / trailer] or A Shriek in the Night [1933 / full film], among many), appears in The Lost World as Prof. Summerlee.
According to Wikipedia, The Lost World is the first film to ever have been shown to airline passengers (in April 1925 on an Imperial Airways London-Paris flight), is considered the first feature-length film made in the United States, if not the world, to use stop motion photography as the primary special effect, and is the granddaddy of all feature-length dinosaur movies, from King Kong to Jurassic Park (1993 / trailer) and its sequels. It was also the first feature film that pioneering stop motion special effects artist Willis H. O'Brien worked on; up till then, he had only done short films like The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1915 / full short) or his first dino-film, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918 / full short).
The official Ray Harryhausen website says: "[Ray's] parents took him to see The Lost World sometime in 1925, when he was barely five years old and there he witnessed what looked to be living dinosaurs. It was a revelation. His favorite scene was of an allosaurus fighting and then pushing a brontosaurus off the edge of the plateau where it lands in a lake of mud."
The Lost World (1925) — The Full Film:
(1933, dirs. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)
As in The Lost World, Willis H. O'Brien did the breathtaking stop motion effects to King Kong.
To simply quote the official Ray Harryhausen webpage: "Eight years later, in 1933, Ray would see another film that would not only inspire him but change his life. The film was King Kong. Picture the scene of Ray, aged an impressionable thirteen year old, sitting in Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, with his aunt (who had acquired the precious tickets) and his mother. When he left the cinema Ray talked about what he had seen all the way home. Questions came thick and fast, most of which his parents couldn’t answer so Ray had to look elsewhere for answers. He wanted to know about the creatures and how they had been brought to life. He knew they weren't real but how were they able to move?" And thus Harryhausen's lifelong interest in special effects and stop motion animation began, initially reflected in the marionettes and puppets and artwork and short experimental films and onwards until he finally began his mature work...
The plot of King Kong as explained by Claudio Carvalho of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: "In 1933, the bold and successful filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong of The Son of Kong [1933 / trailer] and The Most Dangerous Game [1932 / full film]) travels by ship with a large crew, his friend Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot of Fallen Angel [1945 / trailer] and Sinners in Paradise [1938 / full film]) and the starlet Ann Darrow (Fay Wray of Black Moon [1934 / full movie], The Vampire Bat [1933 / trailer] and Doctor X [1932 / trailer], among others) to an unknown island to shoot a movie. The local natives worship a huge gorilla called Kong and they abduct Ann to offer her in a sacrifice to Kong. Jack Driscoll, who is in love with her, Carl Denham, who aims to capture the animal for an exhibition in New York and part of the crew hike into the jungle, where dinosaurs live, trying to rescue Ann. King Kong falls in love for Ann and protects her against the dangers. But the gorilla is captured and brought to New York. In the middle of a show in Broadway, King Kong escapes, bringing panic to the Apple city."
Remade twice — as an enjoyably bad version in 1976 (trailer), which in no way reveals Jessica Lange to be the talented actress that she is, and as an enjoyable but oddly empty special effects overkill in 2005 (trailer) — the original version was finally deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress in 1991 and added to the National Film Registry.
Jessica Lange proving her versitality in American Horror Story II — The Name Game:
Over the years King Kong, like many movies, has suffered the removal of one or another scene to meet changing times or commercial desires. This includes scenes such as Kong chewing on one native and stepping on another, all scenes of sailors being eaten by the Brontasourus, Kong pushing down Ann's top to get a gander of her breasts, the death of a sleeping woman Kong initially mistakes as Ann and, most famously, the infamous spider scene, which involves the death of a plethora of sailors. Producer Merian C. Cooper supposedly cut the last scene after the first public screening because the reaction of the audience was so extreme that "It stopped the picture cold." Peter Jackson recreated the scene for a recent DVD re-release.
King Kong (1933): The Lost Spider Pit Sequence — Peter Jackson Recreation:
Jasper and the Watermelons
(1942, dir George Pal)
All great artists start somewhere... in the case of Harryhausen, though inspired to enter the field of stop motion animation by King Kong (1933) and the work of Willis O'Brien, his first job (from 1940 to 42) was working for George Pal on the latter's classic Puppetoons. While the Puppetoon shorts are generally lite on credits, on the official Ray Harryhausen website, among the shorts that are listed as having had the participation of Ray are three of Pal's undeniably racist Jasper films: Jasper and the Choo-Cho (1942, with Willis O'Brien), Jasper and the Haunted House (1942) — our Short Film of the Month for May 2013 — and this one here, Jasper and the Watermelons. Unlike traditional stop motion, in which a (usually single) malleable figure on a wire skeleton is moved bit by bit, Puppetoons utilized "a series of different hand-carved wooden puppets (or puppet heads or limbs) for each frame in which the puppet moves or changes expression". As questionable as the Jasper cartoons are by today's standards, what is without a doubt is that they are also often as surreally weird as they are technically fantastic — and Jasper and the Watermelons is no exception in this regard.
Tulips Shall Grow
(1942, writ. & dir. George Pal)
Again according to the official Ray Harryhausen website, among the George Pal Puppetoons Ray worked on is this is one; at least one other website claims he was the (uncredited) chief animator. To simply quote the George Pal Puppetoon Site: "Pal and his wife Czoka fled Holland as the Nazis were trashing Europe. He saw firsthand the horrors inflicted on innocent, peaceful people by these fascists. When he started making films in America, one of his first was this excellent anti-war piece in which an innocent pair of Dutch lovers are terrorized by the invading Screwball army. The faceless, inhuman, mechanical (literally, made of nuts and bolts), 'sieg-hiel'-ing screwballs are a dark parody of the same faceless inhumanity that could mechanically exterminate innocent lives." The Dutch lovers finally turn to god for salvation, and like in the Pal produced film War of the Worlds (1953 / trailer), god listens.
As Movies over Matter says: "Sure it's propaganda, but it's effective and, more importantly, it's sweet. Don't worry, kids, Jan and Janette (as stand-ins for all the occupied peoples of Europe) will be fine. The Screwballs can't last. What they are made up of is hate and fear and greed, which, like the water-sensitive Screwballs, can't last. The Nazis will also wither away, leaving time for the tulips to grow again." The short was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to another anti-Nazi short, Walt Disney's Der Fuehrer's Face (1942 / full short) — the only Donald Duck film ever to win the award (8 Donald Duck films have been nominated in total to date). In 1997, Tulips Shall Grow was selected by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and is now preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
The Storybook Review
(1946, almost everything by Ray Harryhausen)
Aka Mother Goose Stories. After leaving the employment of George Pal in 1942, Harryhausen went to war from 1942 to 45 and produced propaganda and educational films for the US Army: "Ray was honourably discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey on the 7th February 1946. He left the Army as a Technician Third Class with an American Sv medal, Good Conduct medal, World War II Victory medal and a certificate as a sharp shooter (Ray had never handled a gun before his entry into the Army). [RayHarryhausen.com]"
Free to do what he wanted, Harryhausen decided to make a series of shorts based on Mother Goose rhymes (and thus featuring Little Miss Muffett, Old Mother Hubbard, Queen of Hearts and Humpty Dumpty) that he later distributed to schools as The Mother Goose Stories; a family production, his dad did the armatures, his mom the costumes. We would tend to agree with boblipton of New York City who wrote at imdb that the collection "is more interesting as an historical artefact than as a work of art" or "for Harryhausen fans only".
The Storybook Review:
Mighty Joe Young
(1949, dir. Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Mighty Joe Young, an RKO B&W feature that was produced by the same people that brought us the original King Kong (1933), was Ray Harryhausen's first job on a feature-length film. Though Willis H. O'Brien is credited for the Academy Award winning special effects of the film, common knowledge is that he did the designs and storyboards but left most of the stop-motion animation work to Harryhausen. The film was not a financial success when it came out, but the years have been kind to it and its cult popularity even led to a remake in 1998.
Of the original version, TV Guide says: "Though produced by the same people responsible for the classic King Kong, Mighty Joe Young is a pale imitation. Jill Young (Terry Moore of Mansion of Blood [2013 / trailer], Double Exposure [1983 / trailer] and Al Adamson's Death Dimension [1978 / trailer]) lives in the jungles of Africa and raises Mighty Joe, an extremely large gorilla. Up pops Broadway producer Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong of King Kong, Decoy [1946 / short documentary] and, with Turhan Bey, The Mad Ghoul [1943 / full film]) [and his sidekick Gregg (Ben Johnson of Terror Train [1980 / trailer] and Cherry 2000 [1987 / trailer])], who is looking for a 'knock 'em dead' act for his new nightclub in Hollywood. Armstrong and his bunch bring Jill and Joe to the 'City of Dreams' and build an act around the beast. As part of the act, Moore plays 'Beautiful Dreamer' on a piano while the gorilla holds her above his head, and is pitted against 10 wrestlers in a game of tug o' war. Some drunk patrons give Joe some drinks, which spurs him to go on a rampage. The gorilla makes up for his folly, however, by rescuing children from a burning orphanage. He then goes back to live peacefully in Africa. While the nightclub sequence is great camp and the Oscar-winning special effects by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen are top-notch, the film doesn't capture the magic of King Kong. The orphanage fire had originally been tinted."
Aside from King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, director Ernest B. Schoedsack, whose wife Ruth Rose supplied the script to Mighty Joe Young, also made Dr. Cyclops (1940 / trailer), The Son of Kong (1933 / trailer) and The Most Dangerous Game (1932 / full film), among others.
The Story of King Midas
(1953, dir. Ray Harryhausen [uncredited])
Between Mighty Joe Young (1949) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Harryhausen returned to making shorts, most of them based (like his first solo project, 1946's The Storybook Review aka Mother Goose Stories) based on fairy tales: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950), The Story of Rapunzel (1951 / short), The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951 / short) and this one here, based on a Greek myth for a change, The Story of King Midas.
The narration of all four shorts was written by Charlotte Knight, (February 8, 1894 - May 16, 1977), a former schoolteacher, bit-part actress and friend of Harryhausen whose last writing credit that we could find was for the story to 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). Del Moore (May 14, 1916 - August 30, 1970), a radio and TV announcer who appeared in a lot of Jerry Lewis films as well as the counter-culture time capsules Movie Star, American Style or; LSD, I Hate You (1966 / trailer) and Catalina Caper (1967 / Little Richard sings Scuba Party, from the film) supplied the narration.
The Story of King Midas was the last stop-motion short Harryhausen made before teaming up with producer Charles H. Schneer to concentrate on feature-length films, thus leaving incomplete a fifth fairytale short, The Tortoise and the Hare, which he completed decades later 2002 (short) with the assistance of the animators Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, the team behind The Old Man and the Goblins (1998 / full short) and Graveyard Jamboree with Mysterious Mose (1999 / full short).
TCM says that Harryhausen considered The Story of King Midas to be the best of his Mother Goose and Fairy Tale shorts and that it is "his most technically accomplished": "As with the earlier shorts, Harryhausen intended the new series to be used in schools. He shot them in 16mm, with the intent of later synching up music and narration. The changing expressions on the puppets were a variation of the method employed by George Pal on his Puppetoons series [...]. Harryhausen sculpted a small group of plaster heads for each puppet, each having an extreme expression. To create expressions, he changed out the head and did a quick 8-frame dissolve in the camera; the dissolve provided the "in-betweens" to bridge the jump between the extremes. The King Midas animation model was 10 ½ inches high, with a latex body and an interior metal armature." For his short, Harryhausen shifted the tale of Midas to Medieval Europe and gives it a happy ending, but the basic idea of a man who gains the ability of turning everything he touches into gold — the "Midas Touch" — remains the same.
In an interesting film historical reference, the entity in Harryhausen's The Story of King Midas who bestows the king with the touch of gold is obviously modelled after the character of Graf Orlok (Max Schreck), the vampire of F. W. Murnau's classic silent vampire movie, Nosferatu (1922 / full masterpiece).
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
(1953, dir. Eugène Lourié)
The directorial debut of the Russian-born Frenchman Eugène Lourié, who was far more active (and better) before and after as art director; among his other directorial projects of note are Gorgo (1961 / trailer), The Giant Behemoth (1959 / trailer) and The Colossus of New York (1958 / trailer) — had Lourié not been married, one could well suspect he was a size queen.
The roots of the film seem oddly reminiscent of the eternal question, "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" Originally conceived by producers Jack Dietz (whose earlier productions include The Corpse Vanishes [1942 / full film], The Ape Man [1943 / full film] and Voodoo Man [1944 / full film]) and Hal E. Chester (who later produced Curse of the Demon [1957 / trailer]) as a giant monster film ala King Kong (1933) playing with the public's rising fear about nuclear power, the production was already underway when Harryhausen showed the script to Ray Bradbury, who had already published a short tale The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in the Saturday Evening Post that happened to share many narrative commonalities; the producers, seeing Bradbury's reputation and name as a commercial plus, promptly bought the film rights to his tale and correspondingly re-titled their project, which eventually then carried the following in the credits: "Screen Play by Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger, Suggested by the Saturday Evening Post Story by Ray Bradbury."
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review has a succinct plot description of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, about which they say "The film itself is slow moving and Eugene Lourie’s direction literal-minded": "Atomic tests in the Arctic revive a prehistoric rhedosaurus that is buried in the ice. It then proceeds south towards its old hunting ground — where New York City now stands — destroying all in its path." As the first creature feature film to present a giant monster awoken or created by atomic power that goes on a destructive rampage, Beast is the Daddy of many a fondly remembered film to come including, for example, Them! (1957 / trailer), the guilty pleasure The Beginning of the End (1957 / trailer), and even The Amazing Colossal Man (1957 / trailer). (Change to NYC to Tokyo and the Arctic to the Pacific, and what do you have? Right: Godzilla [1954 / trailer]! Furthermore, like Godzilla but unlike in the actual film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the giant lizard beast seen in some of the posters spits flames.)
The rampaging beast, called a Rhedosaurus in the film, never existed as a real dinosaur (for which it is often mistaken) or prehistoric reptile (with which it shares the most features). As pointed out by the Bad Movies Org, the beast "is a landmark Ray Harryhausen creation. After all these years, seeing it tromp down a city street crowded with cars is still great fun for a monster-movie lover." But though a classic of sorts, few people do not find the movie terribly flawed by some atrocious acting. As shugaron316 of the United States says: "The worst part of the movie was the casting, especially the male and female leads. Paul Christian's accent is almost impossible to understand at times, and his acting is wooden. Paula Raymond (of Hand of Death [1962 / trailer] and Mind Twister [1994 / trailer] ) may seem pretty by '50s standards, but I think she has a pronounced overbite and adenoids, the way her mouth is always hanging open! Her acting was also pretty limp. Cecil Kelloway (of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte [1964 / trailer], The Invisible Man Returns [1940 / trailer] and The Mummy's Hand [1940 / trailer]) was a delight, as usual, and Ken Tobey (of the hilarious Hellraiser: Bloodline [1996 / trailer], The Thing from Another World [1951 / trailer], Ben [1972 / trailer] and the unjustly overlooked Homebodies [1974 / Spanish trailer]) was unusually restrained [...]."
A young Lee Van Cleef (as sharpshooter Corporal Stone) saves the day in the end... Actor "Paul Christian", by the way, is actually Paul Hubschmid of The Day the Sky Exploded (1958 / trailer), the Don Sharp directed Taste of Excitement (1970 / theme) and Negresco (1968 / credit sequence).
The fictional Rhedosaurus, by the way, later made an appearance in two other fun films that Harryhausen had nothing to do with, the trashy Planet of Dinosaurs (1979 / full film) and the more popular Hammer dino-babe flick featuring Victoria Vetri, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) — Ray Harryhausen worked on neither, but his influence is written on every frame of the films.
Trailer to Val Guest's When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970):
It Came from Beneath the Sea
(1955, dir. Robert Gordon)
There goes the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge! We saw this is a wee lad at an after-school showing in the auditorium of Lyles Crouch Elementary School in Alexandria, VA — we thought it the bee's knees, but it wasn't until we saw it again some 10 years later that we noticed that Faith Domergue was such a hot tamale. Yum! Too bad she never posed for Playboy.
Sometime in the 1950s, Harryhausen met producer Charles H. Schneer, who worked with the Sam Katzman B-picture unit of Columbia Pictures; this film, The Beast from Beneath the Sea, was their first joint project, but their professional relationship went on to last almost three generations, finally ending with their last joint project, Clash of the Titans (1981).
Despite the lowly credits Harryhausen always got in his films, he was always so involved in every angle of the production — story, script development, art direction, design, storyboards, you name it — that despite whoever is credited as director, the film must really be considered a Ray Harryhausen film; It Came from Beneath Sea is no exception. Here, the credited director is Robert Gordon, a former actor (The Jazz Singer [1927 / Mammy]) turned director whose relatively unexceptional resume includes a few fun things such as Trapped by Television (1936 / full film) and the guilty pleasure starring Michael Gough, Black Zoo (1963). For its original release, It Came from Beneath the Sea was paired with the fun but inferior Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) for double features.
Trailer to Creature with the Atom Brain (1955):
Famously, due to budget reason Harryhausen was forced to give the octopus two legs less than as nature intended, but the fact that the monster is a "sixtopus" is neither truly noticeable nor detrimental to the film.
The writing credits to It Came from Beneath the Sea include George Worthing Yates, who also helped pen other fun stuff such as Tormented (1960 / trailer / full film) and War of the Colossal Beast (1958 / trailer), among other titles. The plot of It Came from Beneath the Sea as succinctly given by Foster on Film: "A military sub is grabbed deep underwater by something unknown. Doctor John Carter (Donald Curtis of Invisible Agent [1942 / trailer] and the Turhan Bey film The Amazing Mr. X ) and Doctor Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue of Psycho Sisters [1974 / trailer], Legacy of Blood [1971 / trailer], Fulci's Una sull'altra [1969 / trailer], Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet [1965 / fan made trailer / full film], This Island Earth [1955 / trailer], Cult of the Cobra [1955 / trailer] and Where Danger Lives [1950 / trailer]) determine that the culprit is a giant octopus, altered by radiation. While the military search for the beast, Carter and Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey) vie for the affections of Joyce."
While we here at A Wasted Life think the faults of the film are more obvious to adults than to the kids this movie was made for, Foster also succinctly points out the failing of It Came from Beneath the Sea: "When Harryhausen's creature isn't on screen, things slow down [...]. The first half of the film is a lot of exposition with the characters explaining to each other what is clear to anyone in the audience who had bothered reading the film's title. [...] For all you fans of stock footage (and who isn't?!), this is your lucky day. There's lots and lots of stock footage [...]. The plot isn't much and the ending is anticlimactic. The romantic subplot just takes up time, and the dialog is so-so. [...]. That means it all comes down to Harryhausen. If you love his work, then you'll want to catch this at least once. If you don't like stop-motion animation or '50s giant monster movies, give this a pass."
A Wasted Life, on the other hand, definitely says give it a go...
The Animal World
(1956 writ & dir Irwin Allen)
Torqued opening sequence:
Main on-screen credit: Animation by Ray Harryhausen. In 1953, producer / director / writer Irwin Allen had rather the success with a documentary film entitled The Sea Around Us, which even won an Academy Award as Best Documentary; The Animal World, which "traces the two billion year history of all living things on earth", was his follow up project. TCM says the film uses "footage shot by naturalists all over the world", which is a nice way to say "lots of stock footage".
As Allen wanted an opening sequences dealing with dinosaurs, he hired Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen to create it; the roughly ten-minute long sequence ended up being their first color sequence for a mainstream film. Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings says: "No story here; just lots of footage with animals in it. It starts out with a direction, recounting the evolution of animals through the ages, but it eventually settles on random footage of animals, with narrators occasionally adding voices to the animals or telling stories about them. If this sounds like it could get a bit tiresome, it does, but it does help if you like to look at animals, though some of the bullfight footage is bound to be unpleasant."
The film ends with the earth blowing up, pointing out that man is the only animal that wantonly destroy itself. The movie was narrated by an unknown named John Storm and, returning from The Sea Around Us, the obscure actor Theodore von Eltz (November 5, 1893 – October 6, 1964), a former silent-movie lead who devolved into supporting roles seen in such films as Strangers of the Evening (1932 / full film), the lost film The Cat Creeps (1930 / trailer) and — as the blackmailing pornographer — The Big Sleep (1946 / trailer). Some of the dinosaur footage was later used in the films Trog (1970) and, supposedly, Americathon (1979 / trailer). Unseen Films is of the opinion that "Irwin Allen's nature documentary is [...] an amusing diversion [...] that hasn't stood the test of time but is still worth seeing." In regard to the dinos, they continue to say "It's easily the worst work Harryhausen ever did. [...] Laughably bad or no it's still a fun sequence."
Harryhausen & O'Brien's volcano in the trailer to Trog (1979):
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
(1956, dir. Fred F. Sears)
Aka Invasion of the Flying Saucers. Any similarities found in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks (1996 / trailer) to this film here are purely intentional. GorePress, which, like literally everyone who has ever seen the film, "enjoyed this film thoroughly from start to finish", sets the scene: "Dr Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe of The Day the Earth Stood Still [1951 / trailer]) and his new wife, Carol (Joan Taylor), are driving to a military base where they are working on Operation Skyhook, which plans to explore space by sending rockets into orbit around earth. Whilst they are driving, they are stunned to be followed closely by a flying saucer, an aurally memorable experience as much as a visual one. It is the first of many to be seen around the world, but who are the mysterious visitors in the UFOs and what are their intentions?"
Leonard Maltin, in turn, says: "Matter-of-fact presentation gives tremendous boost to familiar storyline (alien invaders order us to surrender peaceably — or else). Literate dialogue, subdued performances, and solid Ray Harryhausen effects make this a winner that belies its B origins nearly every step of the way." The film was "inspired" by the book Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), the second UFO-themed tome by, Major Donald E. Keyhoe, who became one of the early leaders of ufology with the publication of his first book on the topic, the bestseller The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950). The filmscript was by the great Curt Siodmak (House of Frankenstein ), George Worthing Yates (Frankenstein–1970 [1958 / trailer] and Attack of the Puppet People [1958 / trailer], among other fun titles), and the black-listed Bernard Gordon (the producer of the absolutely great film Horror Express [1972 / full film] and writer, as "Raymond T. Marcus", of Zombies of Mora Tau [1957 / trailer] and The Man Who Turned to Stone [1957 / trailer]).
The forgotten director Fred F. Sears — who broke into direction after starting out as an actor and whose last eight features were released after his untimely death at the age of 44 on Saturday, November 30, 1957 — was a favorite of producer Sam Katzman 'cause he worked cheaply and quickly. He made a total of 52 feature films between 1949 and 1957, including some "interesting" films such as Cell 2455 Death Row (1955, starring William Campbell), Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955 / trailer), The Werewolf (1956 / trailer), Rock Around the Clock (1956 / great dance scene) and The Night the World Exploded (1957 / trailer). Some of the footage from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers eventually also found its way into the intriguing anti-Commi flick The 27th Day (1957 / trailer) as well as one of Sears' most memorable films, the even cheaper Sam Katzman production and hilariously terrible C-film, The Giant Claw (1957).
Trailer to The Giant Claw:
20 Million Miles to Earth
(1957, dir. Nathan Juran)
"Great scientific advances are often times sudden accomplished facts before most of us are dimly aware of them. Breathtakingly unexpected, for example, was the searing flash that announced the atomic age. Equally unexpected was the next gigantic stride, when man moved out of his very orbit to a point more than 20 Million Miles to Earth."
Aka The Beast from Space. The last Harryhausen film to shot in B&W, and the first of three films director Naftuli Hertz Juran (September 1, 1907 - October 23, 2002) was to do for Harryhausen. Among the non-Harryhausen films that Juran directed that we here at A Wasted Life find of note are The Deadly Mantis (1957 / trailer), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957 / trailer), the original Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (as Nathan Hertz, 1958 / trailer) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962 / trailer). Among those who worked on the screenplay were Charlotte Knight, the lass who often wrote the narration for Harryhausen's fairy tale shorts; Christopher Knopf, who went on to work on the screenplays of Joy Ride (1958 / trailer) and the almost Twilight-Zone-like TV horror A Cold Night's Death (1973 / first 5 minutes), and Robert Creighton Williams, whose only other writing credit of note was on the second-rate Josef von Sternberg noir Macao (1952 / trailer, with Jane Russell).
Look and see: there's Ray Harryhausen himself doing a rare cameo appearance in one of his films as the man feeding peanuts to the elephant that later fights the tragic Venusian creature — or at least does so in the prints that weren't cut by TV broadcasters who supposedly deemed the scene as showing unnecessary cruelty to animals (but, in fact, probably simply wanted more time for commercials). The creature is never named in the film, but it is general knowledge that it's an "Ymir". Atypical of Harryhausen films till then, 20 Million Miles to Earth is set abroad, in Italy — because, according to the official Harryhausen webpage, "Ray wanted to see Italy [so] he changed the location of the story, [then] called The Cyclops, which he had co-written with Charlotte Knight, from Chicago to Italy. [...] The live action was shot in Sperlonga on the Italian coast, and in Rome at the Borghese Gallery, the Coliseum, around the river Tiber and in the Roman Forum."
The plot, according Video Vacuum, which says "The Ymir stands as one of Harryhausen’s greatest creations": "The first manned spaceship to Venus crash lands in Italy carrying a Venusian space egg. Predictably, it cracks open and gives life to a reptilian monster [...] that rapidly grows to enormous size and runs amok. A smarmy astronaut (William Hopper of The Bad Seed [1956 / trailer] and The Return of Doctor X [1939 / trailer]) manages to capture the monster, but it inevitably breaks loose and goes on a rampage through the streets of Rome and wrecks havoc at the Coliseum."
While Maltin is of the opinion that the "Intelligent script, fast pace, and exceptional special effects by Ray Harryhausen make this one of the best monster-on-the-loose movies ever," most reviewers find the Harryhausen effects excellent but the film itself, to quote TV Guide "unusually dull". Joan Tayler returns from Earth Vs Flying Saucers (1956) to play the unnecessary love interest Marisa Leonardo, about whom B-Movie Central says: "Oh man, who's runnin' Hell while she's up here? [...] She spends about the first 1/3 of the movie being bitchy and then after that when she figures out that she can score with Robert, she mellows out finally and starts being more of a help than a hindrance." Bright Lights, ever political, seems to be one of the few sites that points out the obvious: "[...] The film spends entirely too much time revelling in the havoc wreaked by the Ymir rather than condemning those that unfairly forced him into going nuts in the first place." Baby Ymir makes a "what-the-fuck-?" appearance of a few seconds in Joe Dante's original version of Piranha (1978). While big monsters would still appear in his later films, 20 Million Miles to Earth is basically Harryhausen's last pure "creature feature".