Screenplay: Lou Morheim & Fred Freiberger, from Bradbury short story (“The Fog Horn”)
Directed by Eugene Lourié
Cast: Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Woods
An atomic explosion in the Arctic ocean awakens a deep-frozen dinosaur. After attacking a lighthouse - and New York City (where it used to live pre-freeze) - it is lured to a amusement park where it is killed amongst the rollercoaster and other wild rides.
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is generally considered to be the initiator of the 1950s trend for creatures-awakened-by-an-atomic-explosion. Reputed to have cost $200,000 and to have generated $5million in revenues, it was undoubtedly one of the most successful science fiction films of its time.
It was also the first movie to feature animator Ray Harryhausen's solo work (he had previously worked with Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young).
Ostensibly based on "The Fog Horn", which was first published as "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", the movie has little in common with Bradbury's tale: the lighthouse attack is central to the short story, but incidental here. The creature's fairground death throes are probably the highlight, and these have a certain Bradburyesque quality. Watch the movie, then read Ray's decriptions of Venice, California in Death is a Lonely Business...
The lack of similarity to its source has a quite simple explanation. As Bradbury himself put it (speaking in 1981):
"The producer, Hal Chester, called me and the only reason I went in was that Ray Harryhausen was working on the project and Ray and I have known each other since we were about 18 years old. I heard he was going to be doing this dinosaur film so I went over to see Chester.
He said they were in a big hurry, the script needs revision, will you go in the next room and take an hour and read it. That kind of request is unusual but I said sure, what the heck, I'll do it for Harryhausen. I went in the next room, gave the script a quick reading, and came out. Chester said something like "How do you feel?" I said "It's interesting, but it needs work."
He asked me if I'd do it and I responded by saying that it was very similar to a story of mine called "The Fog Horn" that was in The Saturday Evening Post a year or so ago. So Mr Chester's face changed its aspect several times. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I suddently realised that inadvertently - and I believe it was inadvertent - someone at the studio had a story conference and remembered "The Fog Horn" and the dinosaur and forgot where they had gotten it. So there was I sitting in front of the producer and what could he do?
The next day I got a telegram from the studio saying they wanted to buy the rights and, of course, I sold the rights immediately. I did not affiliate myself with the project; I had so many things to do. And it's a shame that I didn't because I think the script they finally wound up with could have used a little help.
It was a very primitive film and the best thing about it was Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation."
Starlog Interview: Ray Bradbury, by Jeff Szalay; Starlog 53, December 1981