Giant Behemoth, The (1959)

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Biggest Thing Since Creation!

Atomic testing in the ocean disturbs a prehistoric monster than can project electric shocks and radioactive beams. After terrorising the English coast around Cornwall, the creature heads towards London. However it is discovered that if the creature is destroyed by conventional weapons, a dangerous amount of radioactive contamination would spread across England, rendering it uninhabitable for centuries.

 

Originally written as though the monster was invisible, the success of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms prompted a re-write and a change of the title creature into something a little more familiar to audiences. Unfortunately this then means that The Giant Behemoth runs like a poor man’s remake of its far superior cousin with even the same man at the helm, Eugène Lourié, pulling the strings. The action switches from the States to England and everything else is toned down a couple of notches: action and special effects being the main victims. The Japanese may have been getting pummelled by Godzilla and Gamera and the Yanks by all sorts of giant insects but the good old Brits had to settle for Gorgo and Behemoth. I can see who drew the short straws.

Perhaps it’s the original notion that the monster was to be invisible which leads to The Giant Behemoth being overly talky. If the intention was to have an invisible monster all along, then it never mattered about the action sequences simply because you were never going to see much anyway! So the film spends time in undertaking a lot of scientific analysis and research about the creature. Director Eugène Lourié roped in Willis O’Brien (the legendary effects man who created the amazing King Kong) to bring to life the monster in stop motion. At least the makers of the film went to some lengths to create their monster and didn’t just opt for the rubber suits or optically enhanced insects that the other 50s sci-fi monster flicks were employing.

However, O’Brien was getting on in age and could only provide advice to younger apprentices in an advisory role. The low budget stop motion effects aren’t memorable in the slightest and there are not a lot of them. In fact the same sequence is used three times as the monster squashes a car. The only half-memorable sequence is when the monster attacks a ferry but it’s a basic toy ferry and rubber headed monster which is used. Hardly cutting edge special effects and hardly anything but a complete laugh when you see it now as the real life footage of people standing on a stationary ferry is inter-cut with scenes of the rubber monster aggressively destroying the toy ferry. Cut back to scenes of the actors pathetically trying to pretend they’re being buffeted around the ferry before it’s dragged under.

When its destructive rampage finally kicks off towards the end of the film with the destruction of the ferry, you’d wish it had just gone straight home. It saunters into London for a bit of sightseeing, strolling past famous landmarks without so much as a second glance. Come on! The Japanese and the Americans love showing famous landmarks get smashed to pieces by monsters and aliens so why are the British so reserved about the Houses of Parliament or the Tower of London take a bit of a beating? The monster does little damage and then the film is over.

Speaking of reserved, it wouldn’t be a quintessential British flick without the stiff upper-lipped main characters all talking rather calmly and politely. Even in the face of extreme danger, the characters are all laid back, softly spoken and relaxed. The characters are strictly one-dimensional, serving to move the plot further on and nothing more. There’s no secondary story or romantic sub plots. These scientists are simply out to solve the problem and thus explain a lot of the technical mumbo jumbo and try to give proceedings some scientific gravitas. All it does is make the film dull and to say it’s only seventy-nine minutes long, it feels a lot longer whilst watching. Scenes of the characters undertaking science experiments are pure filler and do little to ease the viewer’s ever-growing disillusionment. The daft underwater finale does little to warrant sitting through the rest of proceedings although the final twist at the end is rather unusual for a 50s sci-fi flick as everything is normally wrapped up in a neat little package.

 

The Giant Behemoth is by no means the worst of the 50s atomic monster flicks but it’s one of the most dull. There are no characters to root for or get to know, there’s no monster action until the fifty minute mark and no genuine sense of awe and excitement when it does turn up. But at least it does get to cause a bit of panic throughout London and the final ten minutes or so are fairly decent, it’s just a pity you’ve got to wait a long time to get there.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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