.., The Beast Destroyed a Lighthouse in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms‘ (1953)
Normally the ‘do you remember when..‘ column would focus on those brief moments of stupidness or eccentricity that thankfully plague genre movies (they wouldn’t be what they are without such moments). This time however, I think it only right and proper to pick out a glorious moment instead, in honor of Ray Harryhausen who celebrated his 90th birthday this week. ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms‘ is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, Harryhausen film (here credited with ‘animation effects’). Although not quite at the height of his stop motion genius, there’s a real sence romance and adventure that comes from the monster moving through the black and white scenery. Harryhausen, better than anyone in his industry, knew how to use lighting, shadow, and silhouettes to lift moments of creature attacks up from the level of pop trash and onto a higher plane of atmosphere and beautiful fantasy. You could pick numerous scenes from ‘The Beast’ that fit such lavish description: The blizzard shrouded reveal, the ocean attack on a ship, or the infamous climactic roller coaster fire. But it’s the attack on the lighthouse that does it for me.
Coming ashore on its way down the Eastern Seaboard, The Beast attacks and destroys a lighthouse. There’s a seemless mixture of live footage and stop motion here, the kind of composition that makes for great fantasy. The live action is the rough sea and rugged shoreline. Harryhausen stamps his authority all over this scene is the integration of his stop motion effects with this live action footage. As The Beast first appears its arched back rises, camouflaged against the angled rocks behind it, then silhouetted against the night sky it moves with a cat-like curiosity, standing on its haunches and rearing up against the lighthouse. Only Harryhausen could manage to inject such nuances into stop motion creatures. When The Beast smashes down the lighthouse under the force of its own weight we’re left with a great cinematic scene; The rubble and the monster silhouetted against the night sky, its held held high roaring its fierce threat. A pose many-a-future Hollywood monster would covert.