The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms Review

Beast From 20,000 Fathoms , The
Nuclear testing in the Arctic awakens a prehistoric rhedosaurus which has been frozen in the ice. The radioactive dinosaur which returns to wreak havoc in its ancient spawning grounds – now New York City.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
Release Date:

13 Jun 1953

Running Time:

80 minutes


Original Title:

Beast From 20,000 Fathoms , The

One of the key titles in the 1950s science fiction boom, this was conceived as an atom age equivalent of King Kong – which had enjoyed a successful re-release in 1952 – and became the breakout film for rising effects man Ray Harryhausen.

Beast sets the pattern for many subsequent creature features, opening with an A-bomb test that releases a dinosaur from its million-year-sleep in the arctic ice, then has the monster destroy a few ships at sea and an isolated lighthouse while the nuclear scientist hero (Christian) who glimpses the thing in the blizzard tries to convince the authorities that he isn’t crazy.  Also typical is the tight-suited lady boffin (Raymond) with a masculine name (‘Lee Hunter’), the bristling military man (Tobey) who keeps asking how to kill the thing, and the older specialist (Cecil Kellaway) whose diving bell gets swallowed (presumably at 20,000 fathoms).

The rousing climax brings the monster ashore in New York to chomp down on big city cops, trample through familiar streets and send crowds fleeing in panic before it takes a last stand amid burning rollercoasters on Coney Island as a sharpshooter (bit player Lee Van Cleef) takes the beast down with an isotope missile.

Purportedly based on a tiny Ray Bradbury story (‘The Foghorn’), it owes quite a bit to King Kong – but was then homaged itself in the first Godzilla movie, which is more or less a remake.  There was no such beast as a ‘rhedosaurus’ (the ‘rh’ comes from the animator’s initials), but the catlike carnivorous quadruped is one of the greatest dinosaurs in the movies.

This 50s bis Beastie movie is still a romp despite obviously dated effects.
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