The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

PhantomOf10000LeaguesPosterThe problem with these movies that were made in the 1950s about big sea monsters cavorting around in scenic coves is that the actors back then had no compunction about doing a swimsuit scene without the benefit of about three months of intense training. (Or at least cutting back on the Pabst about two weeks prior to shooting.)

Inevitably, there’s a couple of dudes with varying degrees of flabbiness that have to row out to the middle of the ocean shirtless, before jumping in to battle some poor guy wearing a hot, clunky, fake-looking monster suit.

This movie was no exception and in fact went the extra mile by featuring not one, but two pot-bellied B-movie stars in all their man-boobs glory.

The unsurprising presence of pudgy pecs aside, the prologue involving a monster attack sets the scene for the rest of the film. Unfortunately it doesn’t set the scene that was surely intended because once you see the sea beast that’s hassling deep sea divers, surfers, bikini girls, and tuna, you realize that it’s not exactly the gigantic, sprawling creature portrayed on the poster.

As monsters go, the head is kind of neat, resembling a dragon that would have been at home in a Chinese New Year parade. The rest of the monster is pretty run of the mill and is about the size of the stunt man who somehow got tricked into doing this part.

The really bad thing you notice about this monster is how incredibly top heavy the thing is. It has no neck and with the exception of jaws that move up and down, there’s very little movement in its head. This thing also had maneuverability issues since its swimming consisted of a real half-assed dog paddle style. That’s a problem because I don’t like to have to worry about a sea monster drowning in a movie.

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As you might imagine, the sight of a dead body on the beach (the victim from the prologue) provokes a fair amount of suspicion and draws the attention of superstar oceanographer Ted Baxter.

Ted encounters a government agent from the Department of Defense who has been assigned to investigate this death. Ted tells him that he’s just a simple oceanographer that wandered onto the scene. He’s really in the area though to look up Professor King at the Pacific College of Oceanography.

Professor King is an older dude with really unkempt hair, prone to snatching up turtles off the beach and turning them into freaks of nature in his lab. So basically, he’s your average ethically-impaired liberal college professor.

Ted arrives at his house, but when he and King’s daughter go to find him, the crazy cooter has hopped out the back window and run off into the night! I’ve had professors do that on me before, but only when I needed their signatures to graduate.

If Professor King seems like he’s a few periods short of a full school day, you probably don’t have to look any further than to his dysfunctional office as to the reason why.

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He’s got this nasty secretary with ugly bags under her eyes and the disposition of a junkyard dog. Her name is Ethel and she’s always snooping around trying to figure out what the professor is up to.

There’s also George, the grad student. He’s always sneaking around talking about how he’s going to find out what the professor’s up to and making threats to Ethel if she squeals on him. At one point he even points a harpoon gun at her right there at the office! (I’m sure that school policy would dictate that such an action would subject you to some type of student conduct board, but since Professor King also threatened Ethel with a harpoon gun later, it seems to be some part of the curriculum.)

Beyond the potential for Friday the 13th-style workplace violence, the movie isn’t really very interesting. There’s a bunch of ridiculous talk about a uranium deposit in the ocean floor which somehow has been turned into a death ray that burns anything it touches.

Some of the dead that wash up on shore have been burned, so I’m not sure why the sea monster was really involved other than the fact that a movie about a ray of light on the ocean floor wouldn’t have made such a neat poster.

The monster is apparently a product of some type of experiment, maybe connected to the death ray, maybe not. In any event the thing was somehow dreamed up by Professor King, who was somehow influenced by the writings of Ted Stevens.

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But who in the hell is Ted Stevens? It turns out that oceanographer Ted Baxter is really world famous oceanographer Ted Stevens who has written some important books in the field. (One of them has his 8×10 headshot on the cover, just like all those other scientific books!)

Did he really think that the whole Ted Baxter routine would actually fool Professor King, since they are both in the same field and Stephens is supposedly so well known? Apparently the whole reason for this really bad fake name business is that Ted is undercover for the government working the same case as the DOD guy.

The ending is about as flabby as the guys in this movie. It involves King going out in a boat with a time bomb made out of dynamite that he must have had laying around the lab. You can guess the rest.

The movie manages to swing at every bad pitch a movie like this expects to face: lousy monster, lots of talk, annoying (and physically unattractive) characters, a plot that alternately doesn’t make sense and is just plain boring, tacked on spy angle and one of those lame, artificially fast love affairs with the professor’s hot daughter that is required in these water-logged stories.

A movie with nothing going for it except a cool title and sweet poster art. Watching it leaves you feeling like you were just burned by a deep sea uranium death ray.

© 2014 MonsterHunter

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