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I Bet You Didn't See... Behemoth: The Sea Monster


The penultimate film involving stop-motion special effects by the great Willis H, O'Brien before he died in 1962, The Giant Behemoth (or Behemoth: The Sea Monster as it was originally called) tells the story of a resurrected dinosaur attacking London. Sea creatures wash up on beaches around England and it attracts the interest of a radiation expert, concerned about the effect atomic testing is having on sea life.

The film is a classic 1950's "atomic age" picture, showcasing the varying opinions of the use of nuclear weapons. Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) starts the film by telling a group of British scientists the dangers the atomic tests pose to sea creatures, and what that means to mankind. Meanwhile, an unfortunate Cornish fisherman is killed in an unusual way before thousands of dead fish are washed ashore. The fisherman's last word is "behemoth".

Karnes and a leading British scientist, James Bickford (Andre Morell), investigate these strange happenings, discovering high levels of radiation in some of the fish. With this revelation, Karnes believes "behemoth" is a true creature. This is further encouraged by an attack on an Essex farm. Further investigations lead them to believe "behemoth" is a Paleosaurus.

The film goes on to climax in a hunt in the Thames estuary to find the creature and kill it.

At the time of Behemoth, the full understanding of atomic power was still being understood. Of course, the immediate horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were known, but the long-term effects of radiation exposure were still only being speculated. The fact that film addresses marine life being saturated with radiation and killing them was fairly new at the time. However, the fact that this amount of radiation exposure to humans did not vary at all. There was fatal full-body burns, bodies burnt beyond recognition or absolutely nothing. These were not particularly consistent.

Unlike King Kong in 1933, which is the only other Willis O'Brien film I have reviewed on this blog, the stop-motion scenes were not shot first and projected for the actors to act to on a screen. These were shot separately to the live-action footage and then integrated into the live-action sequences. This technique was not new at the time, but it is new to me and I will undertake extra research into it at a later date.

The film is rated a 'PG', but originally it was given an 'X' certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, before being downgraded to an 'A' certificate within a week of release. In 1959, 'X' rated films were for "public exhibition when no child under 16 is present" (this information is freely available on the BFI website), while an 'A' rating was the equivalent of '12A' now (Adult accompaniment required for children under 12). Oddly, this only happened when the film was cut by two minutes. I haven't been able to find out what was cut.

Behemoth is not considered one of Willis O'Brien's greatest monsters, nor is it a particularly classic film. I found it entertaining and interesting in respects of the radiation theories and for stop-motion history, but it wasn't anything special in terms of acting or film making.

Directed by: Eugene Lourie, Douglas Hickox

Screenplay by: Daniel Lewis James (as David Hyatt), Eugene Lourie

Starring: Gene Evans, Andre Morell

Released: March 3rd, 1959

My Rating: 5/10

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