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The Giant Behemoth

The Giant Behemoth(1959)

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teaser The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth's initial working title was simply "The Behemoth," and it was released at various times and in different countries under the titles The Giant Paleosaurus and Behemoth the Sea Monster with the tag-line "The Biggest Thing Since Creation!" The 1959 American-British co-production - because a movie this big apparently needs two countries to make it - was originally meant to be a story about a huge amorphous blob of radiation, consistent with the many sci-fi films of the period that played on fears of nuclear power.

Director Eugne Louri previously made The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), a successful atomic monster movie (story by Ray Bradbury, effects by Ray Harryhausen) that inspired a generation of similar destructive characters, from Godzilla (1954) to Mothra (1961) to the giant ants of Them! (1954). Because of his earlier success, Louri was offered any number of sci-fi scripts; "All of them unbelievably bad," he said. He finally agreed to this story, but the British producers insisted the threat be a physical creature, not simply a radioactive mass. Louri was unsatisfied with the drafts handed to him, so he hired Daniel James, the writer of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, to work with him on a new draft, reluctantly shaping it into a virtual duplication of the earlier picture, creating a story about a prehistoric monster disturbed by the dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean.

The creature, retaining some of the original blob's atomic power, first terrorizes the English coast, then heads toward London, where military forces are powerless to stop it with conventional weaponry for fear of unleashing dangerous levels of radiation throughout the country. Louri later said he intended the script to be simply "a pro forma document to be used only to sign the producers' contract." He expected it to be developed and changed drastically once work began in England but there were never any rewrites. So he was not happy with this copy of his earlier work, although he did concede that a physical beast was much better visually than mere radiation would have been. "Essentially The Beast and The Giant Behemoth were both cheap pictures anyhow," he said, adding with a chuckle, "The difference was, one was cheap in dollars and the other cheap in English pounds."

Because of the blacklist, James had to be credited as Daniel Hyatt, a pseudonym he used at other times, when he was not foregoing credit altogether. He wrote only one more screenplay after The Giant Behemoth, for yet another Louri monster picture, Gorgo (1961). James' credit on this film was restored by the Writers Guild of America in 1998.

The live-action scenes were filmed in England, including London. Stop-motion animated model effects were done in a studio in Los Angeles and integrated later with the British live-action footage. The animation took place under the supervision of master technician Willis O'Brien, who had perfected the technique on King Kong (1933). O'Brien had also been the chief technician on The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) and in charge of the animated effects for Mighty Joe Young (1949), although most of the actual work had been done by a young Ray Harryhausen. Here, too, O'Brien's assistant Pete Peterson did most of the hands-on task, a remarkable feat considering he was suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time. After Behemoth, O'Brien's credits include The Lost World (1960), the remake of a film he had worked on in 1925, and a few bits of effects at the climax of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Louri was disappointed in The Giant Behemoth, and thought the monster model was poorly executed. He was particularly dismayed that O'Brien wasn't allowed to oversee all the effects work; instead, the producers decided to contract much of that out, leaving O'Brien and Louri little or no control over the result. Because of budget restraints, one shot of the monster smashing a car is used at least three times. Some stock sound of screams used in King Kong were imported into this film in the scenes where the creature attacks the ferry and when it invades London.

The film's score is by Edwin Astley, whose daughter Karen was married to musician Pete Townsend of The Who from 1968 to 2000. Astley's most memorable work is the distinctive theme music for the British TV series The Saint.

Russian-born Eugne Louri went to Paris at 16 to study painting and stage design, and began working for various ballet companies. He first made his significant reputation as an art director and production designer collaborating with Jean Renoir on such noted films as Grand Illusion (1937), La Bete Humaine (1938), and The Rules of the Game (1939). He also was art director for Charles Chaplin's Limelight (1952) before changing career paths to direct with giant-monster movies his specialty. He also continued as an art director as well, working on such films as Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) and the TV series Kung Fu. His last film before retirement was Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy (1980).

Although prints ofThe Giant Behemoth in the U.S. did not list him in the credits, Douglas Hickox is credited as co-director with Louri in the UK release. This was Hickox's directorial debut after several years of second-unit work. He went on to direct the Joe Orton adaptation Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970) and the John Wayne London-based police drama Brannigan (1975).

Directors: Eugne Louri, Douglas Hickox
Producers: David Diamond, Ted Lloyd
Screenplay: Eugne Louri, Daniel James; story by Robert Abel and Alan J. Adler
Cinematography: Desmond Davis, Ken Hodges
Editing: Lee Doig
Art Direction: Harry White
Original Music: Edwin Astley
Cast: Gene Evans (Steve Karnes), Andr Morell (Professor Bickford), John Turner (John), Leigh Madison (Jean Trevethan), Jack MacGowran (Dr. Sampson).

by Rob Nixon

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