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The giant Behemoth (1959)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

Starring: Gene Evans, Andre Morell, John Turner, Leigh Madison, Jack MacGowan, Henri Vidon

Written By: Eugene Lourie, Daniel James, Robert Abel (story), Alen Adler (story)

Directed By: Eugene Lourie, Douglas Hickox

The Short Version

The world tour of giant monster stomping heads for London!

It just takes a really long, dull time getting there.

The Giant Behemoth is not so bad it’s good, and not so bad it’s bad; it’s so bad it’s… there.

The stomping of London is so tame that it could be called urban renewal.

The Giant Behemoth is completely forgettable, even if you’re a genre fan.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

FAT FREE CREAM CHEESE.

In other words, a dull, flavorless, and cheap imitation.


Pairs Well With...

CHEAP GIN.

Just a few hits have been known to cause people to see giant dinosaurs or to just plain fall asleep.  Often both at once.

“It proves that all of the Scotch whisky has not been exported to America.”


While understanding that any such occurrence would be tragic and rife with trauma and despair, I nevertheless like to imagine the idea of a gigantic monster stomping through one of the world’s major cities as an exciting event.  You know: havoc, monuments going splat, maybe a skyscraper climb… that sort of thing.

Alas, The Giant Behemoth (or if you’re a Brit, the more sensible Behemoth, The Sea Monster) delivers none of these things.  The first hour is so dull that it’s a challenge to stay awake.  When the dinosaur finally makes landfall, instead of giving London a proper stomping, it strolls right past and buildings people might be upset about losing (like, say, the Houses of Parliament) and tromps down a shoddy looking warehouse district in a lackadaisical fashion that could almost pass for an act of urban renewal.  And the ending… I’ll warn you right now that I plan to spoil it for you further down.  That’s how silly it is.

You’ve heard the story before; indeed, this one’s generally agreed to be a remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms flipped to the other side of The Pond.  In the decade-plus following World War II, nuclear tests were conducted with wild abandon pretty much everywhere, including in the ocean, without much thought being given to long-term effects on the surrounding areas, like, say, killing lots of fish and poisoning the rest so no one can eat them.  Here, a nuclear test has not only killed lots of fish off the shores of Great Britain, but it’s also stirred up an electric dinosaur from the depths.  As it slowly dies from radiation poisoning, the behemoth makes its way back to the waters from which it originally spawned so it can meet its end at home, much like salmon do.  Unfortunately for London, those home waters happen to be the Thames…

To fans, the 1950s drive-in era is known and loved for its plethora of films that fall into the “so bad, it’s good” category.  The Giant Behemoth is not one of those films, nor is it even one that’s “so bad, it’s bad.”  This isn’t to say that it’s not bad at all – for this definitely is bad – but rather, it’s bad in a way that just doesn’t generate any excitement one way or another.  It’s so bad… it’s there.

There no point in sugar coating it, folks: this is a dull movie.  The most exciting thing about The Giant Behemoth is that the German version translates (improperly, of course) as The Loch Ness Monster instead.  (Yes, that’s why I used the German poster up top.)  If that declaration doesn’t count as a warning sign, what does?

The story takes the accepted city-stomping monster formula and decaffeinates it.  Even audience members who have somehow missed seeing one of these pictures before knows the scoop from the very start: the first few minutes readily explain everything that the audience can’t guess from the title or the poster art, but it takes the characters an hour or so to catch on.  (Except for the token American blowhard, of course; he’s got a theory right away, if only he could convince these stiff Brits to believe him.)  It is not an exciting process.  Co-Director Eugene Lourie (who is the only credited director on some prints) seems painfully aware that he’s retooling his own movie from a few years back (he directed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), and has set the film on auto pilot.  The same lack of enthusiasm is present in the script he co-wrote (though again, he is often the only credited party), which isn’t just bad, but utterly uninspired.  With the exception of just one rambling declaration by a paleontologist, there’s not even anything cheesily horrible to latch onto here.  Lampoon harpoons have nowhere to go.  It’s just… plain… boring.

Oh, sure, you can try to make fun of things like the single helicopter that’s played by two obviously different helicopters, but there’s just none of that Ed Wood zest there to inspire anything but a token stab.  Even the blobs of radioactive goop that show up on the beach (which are apparently gobs of Behemoth bile/vomit) end up with the dullest visual effect possible: they look like a quiche that bombed in the oven.  Seriously, folks, what’s less interesting than quiche?

All right, if you’re a serious nerd, you could point out that the “Geiger counter” measures the wrong thing (milliamps), or that if a seriously radioactive object rested in one spot for a few days and then disappeared, it would still leave a measurable trace.  You could even marvel at how a gigantic radioactive dinosaur that also has electric eel-like properties apparently has stealth technology that makes it invisible to the same radar that’s tracking the helicopter it’s about to have for lunch.  You could point out all of these things and more, but again, there’s just no inspirational zest.

One might hope that once the title Behemoth finally starts shambling through London, some fun could be salvaged, but no.  The Giant Behemoth does not present a case of “hour of dull crap leads to twenty minutes of passable fun.”  Instead, it’s “more of the same, only now you can see the dinosaur.”  The very drab and uninspired dinosaur.  (It might count as “not Willis O’Brien’s best work” if he were actually responsible for it, but it’s said that though his name is on the picture, he was really acting as a mentor to a less experienced crew that did the actual model making and stop motion rendering.)

As promised, spoilers ahead, people.

By the time the Behemoth languishes his way into London (conveniently sidestepping all landmarks, as noted, and just laying waste to some warehouses and a few completely out-of-the-way power lines), the scientists have figured out that it’s come to the neighborhood of the Thames to die, which it’s slowly doing as a resulted of the massive dose of radiation it took from that A-bomb test that feels like it was oh-so-long ago.  Since someone (not the American this time) points out that blowing it up would just result in lots of chunks of nuked-up dinosaur irradiating all of London, the boys hit upon the idea of somehow direct-feeding even more radioactive material into its bloodstream so that it can finish croaking naturally and in one containable piece.  They decide that the only way to do this is by irradiating a torpedo warhead and shooting that at the monster.  The fact that torpedoes are not magical hypodermic needles and indeed explode just like bombs do does not occur to the boys, and the script cheerlessly goes along with them.  So does the Behemoth, who would of course have been perfectly safe from a torpedo if he’d stayed on the dry land of London, but rather sportingly not only gets back into the water, but indeed swims somewhere deep enough to allow a submarine to safely operate.  Again, even the director appears to realize how dumb this is, because the “final battle” is a series of unexciting jump cuts that don’t really show much of anything.  When all is said and done, he seems to be just as glad it’s over as the rest of us are.

Bottom line, The Giant Behemoth is definitely not one of the shining stars of the 1950s monster drive-in genre, and stands as one of if not the most boring city-stomping monster flicks of the classic era.  Feel free to skip this stop on the tour, folks.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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