Faith Domergue is a gorgeous scientist of the type you’re not likely to find in a real science lab, smirks Robert Osborne in his TCM intro. How would he know? His intro sounded like a description of Godzilla, and sure enough, a serious newsman-sounding voiceover at the very beginning invokes the atom and prepares us for the worst.
First off, there’s a stiff young fellow named Griff (which makes up for the lack of Griffs in Sam Fuller’s submarine movie one year prior) and hunky Kenneth Tobey (Thing From Another World, later a Joe Dante cameo regular), who doesn’t generally act much like a military commander. Disturbances are detected, people are disappearing – what could it mean? Enter marine biologists Dr. Carter (Donald Curtis of Spellbound) and Joyce (Faith Domergue, of This Island Earth the same year, with heavy-looking eyelashes – she can barely keep her eyes open) who excitedly study evidence and declare it might be a giant octopus. Finally, 20 minutes in, we get to see a real octopus, and after another ten we see the real prize, Ray Harryhausen’s giant animated tentacles.
The narrator returns frequently, and he is welcome since not much else is happening, to make statements like: “In the weeks that followed, the North Pacific was closed.” After explaining to the audience what octopuses are, in typically patient cheapie science-film fashion, the marine biologists, who should’ve really been sent home by now, start ordering the military around. Between lessons about cephalopods we get an instructive speech about how women can be as capable as men, proven when biologist Joyce invents a new kind of torpedo. In California they meet local plaid-jacketed sheriff Harry Lauter (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) who is killed by the monster minutes later.
“The coastal waters of the Pacific were mined,” declares the narrator. I hope the Navy plans on cleaning those up later. Needing a device to keep piling on the exposition, the Navy is surrounded by inquisitive reporters, culminating in a LOL moment when a short newsman asks Joyce a question she doesn’t know, so he follows dramatically with: “If you don’t know, who does?”
When the radio announces the ferries are closed then a mob of peeved suit-and-hat wearing men rush down, elbowing past police to assert their rights to ride the ferries, I am just rooting for them all to be eaten by giant fish. Tentacles crawl aground, looking like giant tongues, but only grab a few people, falling upon them Blob-style. Disaster flicks had disappointingly low body counts in the 50’s. Old Dr. Carter gets in trouble as the monster attacks the Golden Gate bridge, in the first scene really worth watching, and I thought he was a goner for sure. After all, the commander and Joyce have shared a hot beach-love scene, so it’s time to kill off the elder third-wheel… but surprisingly, he makes it back.
As we began in a submarine, so shall we end, as the navy takes the battle down below (not too far – the octo stays about 50 feet down). Unexpected meta-humor when the octo grabs their sub and Tobey says “this is where we came in.” Of course, now it’s personal, so he and Dr. John grab scuba gear and harpoons to finish the thing off. I don’t think Tobey ends up with Joyce, dedicated as they are to their careers, but I was sleepy and can’t be sure.
The only sci-fi flick made by Robert Gordon, a former actor (played Al Jolson as a boy in The Jazz Singer). I’m hoping he’s the younger brother of MST3K “fave” Bert I. Gordon. I can find no proof of that, but this film’s writer George Yates wrote five of Bert’s films (the other writer, Hal Smith, was a major voice actor in 1980’s cartoons).
Buy the box set from Amazon:
The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen