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It Came From Beneath the Sea
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It Came From Beneath the Sea

It Came From Beneath the Sea: Movie Book Criticism
  • Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, by Bill Warren. 1982 (Vol 1, 1986, Vol 2, reprinted in a single volume 2005).
  • The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen: Features, 16mm Experiments and Unrealized Projects, by Roy P. Webber. McFarland, 2004
  • Women in 1950s Science Fiction Films, by Bonnie Noonan, McFarland, 2005

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Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, by Bill Warren. 1982 (Vol 1, 1986, Vol 2, reprinted in a single volume 1997).

Warren starts his 2 and a half page (plus 1 full page photo) commentary on It Came From Beneath the Sea, by pointing out that this was "the first of over a dozen films produced by Charles H. Schneer with special effects by Ray Harryhausen." And he points out that the film greatly resembles The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (which it does!).

Who decided to feature a giant octopus as the star of the film? Warren says its unclear.

Warren comments that the name of the newly-commissioned atomic submarine is the Nautilus, but it is never called this in the movie. In "the real world," the Nautilus was the first nuclear powered submarine.

Warren points out that the octopus "pulls down the Ferry Building, and send[s] tentacles questing up Market Street."

According to Warren: "As early as 1953, Sam Katzman had planned a film called "Monster of the Deep" to have been written by Steve Fisher. Plans were made to shoot the picture in color and 3-D." Warren says that when Harryhausen was chosen to do the special effects, "3-D was clearly out," although he apparently did some tests, and the expense of stop-motion animation made filming it in color impractical.

Warren points out that Harryhausen discusses this movie in Harryhausen's "useful but not detailed" Film Fantasy Scrapbook. It's here that Harryhausen points out that in order to save money, his octopus - 2-feet in length, was made with only six arms. Harryhausen also built "a large tentacle for the illusion of greater mass and detail, and for ease in the sequences in which it quests its way through the city, seemingly with independent life as it smashes windows and flattens crowds."

In addition to the tentacle, a large section of the head, with a two-inch eye, was also constructed, for the climax of the film when a torpedo is shot into it, and a diver swims past it.

Watch the octopus - Harryhausen always has a tentacle in motion, to make the creature suitable expressive and lifeline, says Warren.

The model was not shot in the water - it was covered with glycerine to make it appear so. Harryhausen added foam via optical printer at all points where the beast's body or arms broke water; this was time-consuming, but it added to the realism.?

Warren also points out that Harryhausen moved the tentacles differently, when they were supposed to be under water and when they were supposed to be in the air, since Harryhausen felt that it was necessary to depict the greater resistance and weight of water.

Kenneth Tobey stated, in an interview for a fanzine called Photon, that of the nine-days of live-action filming, seven took place in San Francisco.

Warren states that the city fathers refused to give Schneer permission to film in San Francisco, so they did it secretly, shooting background plates for the picture from the rear of a bread truck.

About the acting, Warren says, There's a hint of a romantic triangle between Tobey, Curtis and Domergue, but it's perfunctorily handled, and scripters George Worthing Yates and Hal Smith seem to have realized that everything between the effects is of little concern.?

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The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen: Features, 16mm Experiments and Unrealized Projects, by Roy P. Webber. McFarland, 2004

According to Roy P. Webber, It Came From Beneath the Sea resembles The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms both in fundamental structure and storyline.

Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen began their working partnership with this film. Schneer had seen Beast, and contacted Harryhausen to do his film featuring a gigantic octopus.

The movie is "believed" to have cost between $100,000 and $150,000. Harryhausen built his octopus with only six arms, to save money.

An oversized tentacle, about two and a half feet long, served for many closeups of a suckered limb thrusting into the air.

Miniatures includes: the Golden Gate, the Oakland Ferry Building, and the clock tower. According to Webber, One shot, of the tip of an arm smashing the window of a store, was inspired by a scene in the 1925 The Lost World - this long-lost footage had the rampaging brontosaurus in London poking its head into a room.

Webber contrasts scenes from Beast and It Came to show the improvement in Harryhausen's technique: As in Beast, the octopus rises up and seizes a ship at sea but here it is improved upon. Since the background plate contains breaking surf, the rolling action of these waves matches the commotion of the violently careening freighter under assault, as opposed to the rhedosaur's attack on the fishing ketch. In Puppets & People, S.S. Wilson expresses this opinion when he states: "The background plate is breaking surf, but through careful animation and editing, and with the addition of the spray effect (which helps to conceal the relatively sharp line of the static matte), Harryhausen makes the breaking waves appear to be caused by the octopus's violent wrenching of the model ship. In so doing he improves this scene over a similar one in his previous film, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. The rhedosaurus sinks a ship in a background plate of rolling, open ocean; here, the addition of the spray is only marginally helpful, since the set is basically undisturbed all around the action."

There is an over-abundance of stock footage, in Webber's opinion, but he only mentions "a shot of a fleeing crowd from Beast."

What happened to the model of the octopus created by Harryhausen? Only its head still exists - indeed it is on display in Babelsberg, Germany. Harryhausen recycled the six tentacles - making them in to dinosaur tails on future saurians.

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Women in 1950s Science Fiction Movies, by Bonnie Noonan, 2005.

Ms. Noonan discusses this film im many of her sections:

Unlike The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen or even Keep Watching the Skies, Noonan is not interest in how the movie was made. She is solely concerned with the depiction of the female character, and that character's interaction with the male characters and the 'monsters.'

Noonan's book seeks to bring to the foreground the female character in 1950s science fiction films. For each of her topics she contrasts the female characters in two particular movies. In Chapter Three, therefore:

Chapter Three, "Representation of Women Scientists," looks specifically at representations of full-fledged woman scientists. It provides detailed, historically situated readings of two films, Rocketship X-M (1950) and It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), and the women scientists they depict, Osa Massen as Dr. Lisa Van Horne, physicist and fuel engineer; and Faith Domergue as Professor Lesley Joyce, marine biologist. Using the research of Rossiter, Keller, and Sayre and the theories of Rubin and Sedgwick (authors of 1950s science fiction film criticism), these cinematic representations and the changing gender dynamics their professionalism provokes are compared and contrasted with historically situated real-life scientists.

What's the underlying theme of It Came From Beneath the Sea? According to Noonan, it's that Persistent underlying themes of metamorphosis and science gone mad are embedded in all of these plot trajectories. Creatures grow large and voracious..."

and "The theme of science gone mad is reflected in paranoia about the bomb and the concept of scientist as overachiever."

Noonan also references Bill Warren?s seminal science fiction work:

As much as I admire Bill Warren's work, I'm amazed at what he has to say about the female character in the science fiction films of the 50s: "Occasionally woman characters had male names" but this didn't play any part in the plot." Actually, the giving of male names to woman characters - Marty Hunter, Lee Hunter, Dale, Lesley, Pat Bennett, Pat Blake, Pat Medford, Nikki and Steve-is a bit more than occasional and is quite a significant component of the genre. Warren unfortunately (and erroneously) continues:

(Usually when the woman character has a woman's name, she has a relationship established with the hero before the story even starts. Then she doesn't even have to seem competent.) Almost none of these women have a distinctive personality; even more than the male leads, which is not saying much, the leading women characters are interchangeable.
[Women Scientists, pg. 38]

Actually, Noonan misquotes Warren. He never said: "Occasionally woman characters had male names but this didn't play any part in the plot." Indeed - he points out that this is done so as to add to audience surprise when the character arrives on the scene and turns out to be a woman.

Noonan continues by discussing critic Patrick Lucanio:

"As Luciano felt the need to redress the negative attitude toward the science fiction films of the 1950s, it is the primary aim of this book to redeem the image of women in those films by foregrounding women's roles to show not only how varied, but also how central, they were to the genre of 1950s B science fiction films."

Bill Warren dismisses the romance between Cmdr. Pete Mathews out of hand...Noonan believes that it is central to the plot, and explains her perceptions in chapter three - and they make a lot of sense. [A complete analysis of the romance between Mathews and Lesley...and John Carter, too! will appear in a future issue of The Thunder Child.]

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