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One of animator Ray Harryhausen's greatest monsters was inspired by his longing for a European holiday. In 1952, with no money for a trip, Harryhausen dug through his old idea file for a story that required European locations. A possibility was "The Giant Ymir" about a creature from outer space rampaging through a major metropolis. Harryhausen picked Rome, Italy, as both vacation spot and the unfortunate site for attack by his extraterrestrial giant.
In 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) a U.S. spacecraft, returning from a secret mission to Venus, crash-lands in the sea off the coast of Sicily. The rocket's two astronauts are rescued, but a local boy finds something more: a container with a strange jelly-like substance inside. He takes it to a zoologist visiting from Rome who hatches from the jelly a tiny being resembling a lizard walking upright like a man. Exposed to the Earth's atmosphere, the creature begins to double in size every twenty-four hours. Soon it breaks free and scours the countryside for its food: sulfur. Meanwhile one of the surviving astronauts and the U.S. Army try to hunt down this Venusian threat.
The monster may have been from 20 million miles away, but Harryhausen's vacation turned out to be a long four years away. His script was loosely fashioned as a space-age version of King Kong (1933) but, as he later recalled, the script's many faults "stood out like the boot of Italy on a map." A friend, Charlotte Knight, re-worked the script while Harryhausen made sketches of the major action scenes and pitched it to studios. Many turned it down. The sketches made the film look too costly and complicated. Finally Harryhausen turned to monster-film producer Charles Schneer. Two of Schneer's earlier films, It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), had used stop-motion animation provided by Harryhausen. Schneer was confident of Harryhausen's abilities and knew how to bring the film in on budget.
Nathan Juran was chosen to direct. He had experience with the giant-creature-on-the-loose genre, having already made The Deadly Mantis (1957). He would later helm the classic Harryhausen film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) as well as the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space and Land of the Giants.
The creature's name is never used in the film but, thanks to interviews Harryhausen gave over the years, "Ymir" has become well known to science-fiction enthusiasts. Its name comes from the Norse giant that was father to all the Norse gods in Scandinavian mythology. Ymir's creator did get his trip to Rome, spending two weeks scouting for locations his monster could destroy. Harryhausen even made it into the film. He can be seen playing the zookeeper.
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Nathan Juran
Screenplay: Christopher Knopf, Bob Williams, based on a story by Charlotte Knight
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Cinematography: Irving Lippman
Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Film Editing: Edwin H. Bryant
Original Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: William Hopper (Calder), Joan Taylor (Marisa), Frank Puglia (Dr. Leonardo), Thomas Brown Henry (Gen. A.D. McIntosh), John Zaremba (Dr. Judson Uhl), Jan Arvan (Contino).
BW-83m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady