Forgotten Films: The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth's animated monster feels flat in some instances, but it still delivers some fun for genre fans.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 161st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I am ashamed to say that I had never seen this film before pulling it up for this week’s Forgotten Film. I love stop motion animation and Willis O’Brien. King Kong is one of my favorite films off all time and anything with O’Brien’s animation in it is something I want to see. I’ve seen most of his science fiction related stuff but I had not seen this one.

According to Wikipedia, however, O’Brien did not do most of the animation. The director wanted him but the producers hired Jack Rabin, best known for his work on The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Rabin apparently sub-contracted the work to O’Brien for the flat fee of $5,000. O’Brien’s assistant, Pete Peterson, did most of the animation. This was the last film that O’Brien really worked on, other than a very short piece in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Giant Behemoth director Eugène Lourié previously did 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and this film has several similarities. Apparently the original premise for this film had an amorphous blob of radiation as the monster but the distributor wanted a pastiche of the former film, so the script was changed.

On to the film. The film begins with American scientist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) speaking to a British nuclear commission about the possible effects of radiation on the ecology of the ocean. In an astounding coincidence, a small fishing village suffers the loss of an old fisherman who is found near death and says the word “Behemoth” before he dies. Suddenly, fish begin washing up on the beach. And thousands of dead fish mean something is wrong.

Karnes and his British counterpart Professor James Bickford (André Morell) decide to visit the village. They find the fishermen afraid to go out since something is causing the fish to die. Also, one fisherman has suffered unusual burns, similar to those caused by radiation exposure. Soon there are more deaths and a footprint is discovered. Karnes and Bickford take the footprint to a paleontologist who decides that the monster must be a type of Palaeosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur with electric qualities like an eel. The monster is also discovered to be highly radioactive.

Soon, the monster is traced to London where it destroys a ferry with lots of people on it. And begins a run through the city. The monster has the power to emit deadly radiation that kills quite effectively.

Karnes and Bickford have to work with other scientists and the military to destroy the monster without blowing it up and leaving thousands of little highly radioactive bits across town.

Overall, The Giant Behemoth is an enjoyable enough film. It is very obviously a low budget piece; one shot of the monster destroying a car is used three times in the film. The water scenes of the monster are not animated in much detail; the monster’s mouth barely moves. However, the land shots of the monster terrorizing the city are much better. While the movie is derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and takes a while to get going, I still had fun.

The Giant Behemoth is a product of its time — nothing even remotely approaching computer assisted animation was used here — and being in black and white will probably discourage younger fans. If you have not seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, you are better off going back to see King Kong, The Lost World or Mighty Joe Young to see O’Brien flex his animation powers.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.