Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Retro Review: THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today, I will be reviewing the 1959 Artistes Alliance British 'creature feature' film, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH!

My love for ‘creature feature’ movies started with movies like The Giant Behemoth. The kind of movies that aired on Saturday afternoons on the local stations of my childhood where I would sit on the floor in front of the TV with my snacks, Kool-Aid, and favorite stuffed animal to hug close when the creatures got scary!

When you are seven or eight years old, movie monsters like the Giant Behemoth, with its loud roar and destructive radioactive powers, are the kind that keep you riveted to the screen. Even if you could see the wooden platform the head and neck were attached to or knew that the cars were just toys, the monster feels real no matter what.

The Giant Behemoth was written by Robert Abel and Allen Adler, from a screenplay by Eugene Lourie and Daniel James, and is directed by Eugene Lourie. The movie opens with footage of an actual test of an atomic bomb being detonated in the middle of the ocean. Even in black and white this is a dramatic image of destructive power.

Then we find Professor James Bickford (Andre Morell) lecturing to a room full of skeptical fellow scientists about what he believes to be the terrible effect that nuclear radiation is having on the creatures in our oceans. He describes to them how, as one species devours the other, the amount of radiation increases as it goes up the food chain. “Gentlemen, we are witnessing a biological chain reaction.” He tells them.

This, of course, is the ominous precursor to the appearance of the creature; a sort of giant reptile who looks like a dinosaur but is also akin to the electric eel. The creature is suffering from a massive dose of radioactive poisoning. The Giant Behemoth emits this radiation as a weapon by discharging it through its natural electric body current. The creature is first sighted on the shores of England by an older fisherman who, with his dying breath, names the creature. ‘Behemoth’ he utters to his distraught daughter, Leigh (Jean Trevethan), and her friend John (John Turner) just before he dies.

Several scientists, along with Professor Bickford, come from America to London to study the dead fish that have washed up on the beaches and to track the monster. They and the city of London don’t have long to wait for the dinosaur-like sea creature to show up and wreak havoc on ferry boats, power station towers, and city streets. Stomping on cars and people alike along the way.

The creature in The Giant Behemoth was brought to life using stop motion animation, which was the top movie technology of the day back in the fifties.  The acting wasn’t the main drive of the story, which plodded along for most of the movie. Lots of scientific jargon and ecological warnings were spouted by the main characters who all wore serious expressions. As kids, we sat impatiently though all that so we could get to the good part, the monster rampaging through the city!

It wasn’t until later on, as I grew older, that I started paying attention to what the scientists and others were saying about the creature. I began to understand that it wasn’t a monster at all, but rather an innocent animal suffering and dying in a way every bit as horrible as the people who got irradiated by it. I began to feel sympathy for it.  It wasn’t a terror; it was just a creature in pain looking for a place to die.

Oddly enough, even now, fifty-seven years after The Giant Behemoth premiered in theaters on March 3rd of 1959, the cautionary tale it told of what happens when man has no regard for nature is even more relevant than ever. All you need to do is just take one look at the fish washing up on California’s beaches from the radioactive waters of Fukushima, Japan to know that the ‘biological chain reaction’ that the character of Professor Bickford warned about is happening right now in real time.

Compared to ‘creature features’ of today, The Giant Behemoth is cheesy looking, but the story is far from outdated.

Marla's Score: 7/10

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