Kenneth Tobey

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, Robert Gordon)

I finished watching It Came from Beneath the Sea, which I regret, particularly because the whole reason I didn’t shut it down was for the big special effects finale, when the giant radioactive octopus finally attacks a city. Incidentally, it’s San Francisco, which doesn’t turn out to be anywhere near as cool looking as I had hoped.

The film dashes hopes early on, so when you’re sitting through the second act slog, you know there’s no good reason to be doing it, just that expectation the grand finale is going to be worth it. Ray Harryhausen’s special effects work is, after all, objectively stellar.

Sadly, not much of that quality is on display in Beneath. When we finally get to the giant octopus making landfall and giant tentacling the city… the detail’s not good. Because Beneath is way too cheap. It’s been way too cheap and you can kind of get yourself enthused by convincing yourself the cheap for the human science thriller is so there’s enough money for the finish and then… turns out no. It’s just too cheap.

Too cheap, too poorly directed, too poorly written, too poorly acted. And whoever did the light matching on rear screen projection—photographer Henry Freulich, whoever—might be so bad they’re incompetent at it. There’s no reason it should always look so bad, especially when there’s so much of it. There’s a particularly bad scene with the heroes in a beachfront restaurant where you have to remind yourself to pretend the background is supposed to represent something real to the characters.

Of course… maybe if the acting weren’t terrible. So I guess let’s get into how the acting, directing, and writing all congeal into a toxic slop.

From the first scene—well, actually earlier because the opening text crawl is poorly written and then the narration is not a good choice—but from the first live action scene, it’s clear Beneath is going to have some major acting and directing issues. What isn’t clear, from that first scene, is how bad Kenneth Tobey is going to get; he plays a submarine commander who comes across the giant octopus but doesn’t know what it is. Chuck Griffiths is his XO. Griffiths gives such a terrible performance you can’t see anything else. Time stops for Griffiths’s awfulness. It’s incredible.

Somehow, even though it’s not obvious Tobey’s going to be bad, Gordon’s direction is clearly at fault for some of Griffiths. Because Gordon’s directs all the other actors on the submarine terribly as well. Lots of quite bad acting from a variety of actors, which is going to all change when Tobey gets back to the Nazy and off the ship.

Because then it’s going to be creepy sexual innuendo with Tobey and two scientists working on a lab to discover what he found out at sea. Presumably through tissue tests but the science is never explained because George Worthing Yates and Harold Jacob Smith’s script is dumb.

It’s also extraordinarily sexist. Like, unpacking everything up with Beneath and its single woman—marine biologist Faith Domergue (doing a dinner theatre Marilyn Monroe impression)—would deserve thorough scholarly research if the movie weren’t just a fifties monster movie.

So in the lab it’s Tobey, Domergue, and Donald Curtis. Curtis and Domergue are not hooking up but Tobey thinks they’re hooking up because if he were Curtis, he’d be hooking up with Domergue. Domergue doesn’t seem to have considered hooking up with Curtis, but then starts to make bedroom eyes at him… after having an extremely suggestive clutch with Tobey out of sight from Curtis.

During this scene, while Tobey explains he wants to hook up and fast, Domergue picks up graduated cylinder and strokes it with her hand the rest of the scene.

Later we find out Domergue’s from a “whole new breed of woman,” they think they’re just as smart and just as brave as the men, which is why Domergue doesn’t know consent is bad—Tobey tells her Navy men take, don’t ask—and if she enjoys a kiss, she has to marry that guy.

I can’t remember if that scene is before or after the Navy sends Domergue into debrief a sailor who has seen the giant octopus and she has to seduce him to do it.

I think after.

So, yeah, It Came from Beneath the Sea is a shit show of misogyny, sexism, and male gaze (Tobey and Domergue are also apparently into each other because they’re exhibitionists; while waiting for Curtis to show up later in the movie they’ve been From Here to Eternitying it on the beach with a local cop hanging around nearby). It’s also a bad movie, with bad direction, bad acting (Curtis is somehow worse than Domergue, who’s somehow worse than Tobey, even though she’s his victim), bad writing, and not worth the wait special effects.

There are like two good effects shots in the movie. But it seems like it’s because they didn’t have money to let Harryhausen do a grander finale. The eventual shots of the octopus on land, tentacles going through the streets, are the good ones. They’re just aren’t good enough to make up for the rest. It’d be impossible to make up for the rest. Because the rest isn’t just bad, it’s icky. And bad.

Icky bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Gordon; screenplay by George Worthing Yates and Harold Jacob Smith, based on a story by Worthing Yates; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Jerome Thoms; produced by Charles H. Schneer; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kenneth Tobey (Cmdr. Pete Mathews), Faith Domergue (Prof. Lesley Joyce), Donald Curtis (Dr. John Carter), and Chuck Griffiths (Lt. Griff, USN).


Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974, John Hough)

I’m not sure how Dirty Mary Crazy Larry played on its original release—like, did audiences actually sympathize with “leads” Peter Fonda and Susan George—but whatever shine time has scrubbed off it has left something of an endurance test. Fonda and Adam Roarke (who’s more the protagonist than Fonda and often more than George) are a would-be NASCAR team. Fonda’s the driver, Roarke’s his mechanic. There’s not a lot about their history but basically Roarke’s a drunk and Fonda’s just never had a good enough car. Fonda’s got the driving skills to be a champion driver, which are more potential than realized given they drive around a mostly empty Central Valley California and there’s only like two actual chase sequences, albeit decent ones. He just can’t get the speed.

So he and Roarke decide they’re going to rob a supermarket of its cash delivery… by taking the store manager’s wife and daughter hostage and forcing him to open the safe. Roarke is the hostage-taker. He’s really good at being scary. Fonda’s in charge of getting the manager (an uncredited but rather good considering the performance calibers Roddy McDowell) to open the safe. Fonda’s not good at it. The film never explains how they come up with the plan (or target); as grocery store cash delivery robberies go, it’s not the worst plan but… Fonda and Roarke don’t seem to have any concept of possible consequences. Roarke maybe, he just stays quiet about his concerns; Fonda’s an idiot.

George is the local woman he hooks up with the night before the robbery. She tracks him down and refuses to get out of the getaway car and then outsmarts Fonda whenever he tries to ditch her. We later find out she’s an ex-con (serial shoplifting) with nothing better to do than hang with Fonda. When she first ambushes him, she goes on a little about how he’s just afraid because of their great connection the night before… but given the utter lack of chemistry between Fonda and George (and her best line being about his romantic failings)… well, it’s not like Leigh Chapman and Antonio Santea’s screenplay contributes much to the film. In fact, when it’s more surprising when it’s not terrible than when it has the occasional funny line. Deputy Eugene Daniels, who does one of the two chase scenes, is occasionally hilarious but it’s a combination of the bad script, Hough’s inept direction of his actors, and Daniels’s wanting acting chops.

Both Fonda and George are awful. George manages to be more likable because Fonda’s so unlikable, but she’s still terrible. Fonda often acts with his sunglasses on, obscuring his expressiveness… which might be a plus given the film.

Hough’s direction is occasionally incompetent—he and cinematographer Michael D. Marguiles lean into shaky camera work sometimes to the point it’s impossible to see follow a scene—but then he (and Marguiles) will have these great, elaborate long shots of the vehicular mayhem. They work at the vehicular mayhem. Nothing else. Though there’s this one strange perspective shot at the beginning with a car going down a hill where it seems like Hough’s going to try some things.

Even when the film looks good, it’s not trying anything.

The supporting cast lacks goodness but is occasionally mediocre. Kenneth Tobey mildly embarrasses himself as a blowhard sheriff guy. Vic Morrow is an iconoclast captain in the sheriff’s department (it’s unclear if Tobey’s boss or what); Morrow doesn’t carry a badge or a gun or wear any kind of uniform, he’s just a hardworking Cali farmer guy who takes the robbery personally. Apparently because of the kind of car Fonda and Roarke have. It seems like it’s going to mean something. It doesn’t. Nothing means anything in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, including the title, which seems to be slut-shaming George (or not) and Fonda’s not crazy, he’s just a sociopathic jackass.

But it’s only ninety minutes, moves well, has the occasional good vehicular mayhem sequence, and has one hell of an ending. And Roarke’s often really good. Roarke deserves a better script, director, and so on. Fonda and George? They’re right at home in the dismal.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Hough; screenplay by Leigh Chapman and Antonio Santean, based on a novel by Richard Unekis; director of photography, Michael D. Margulies; edited by Christopher Holmes; music by Jimmie Haskell; production designer, Philip Leonard; produced by Norman T. Herman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter Fonda (Larry), Susan George (Mary Coombs), Adam Roarke (Deke), Vic Morrow (Capt. Everett Franklin), Eugene Daniels (Hank), Kenneth Tobey (Carl Donahue), Lynn Borden (Evelyn Stanton), Adrianne Herman (Cindy Stanton), Janear Hines (Millie), Elizabeth James (Dispatcher), T.J. Castronovo (Steve), James W. Gavin (Helicopter Pilot), and Roddy McDowall (George Stanton).


The Bigamist (1953, Ida Lupino)

With a sensational title like The Bigamist, one might expect something lurid and exploitative from the film. Definitely from the titular lead, Edmond O’Brien. But, no, poor O’Brien is just a married traveling salesman with a barren, work-oriented wife (Joan Fontaine) so who can blame him for stepping out. And he only did it once; he’s not a bad guy, he’s tragic hero.

Nearly all of O’Brien’s story comes out in a flashback–screenwriter Collier Young’s use of layered narrative is the film’s biggest problem–when he reveals all to kindly Edmund Gwenn, who has just discovered him.

The flashback portions are exceptionally insensitive to both Fontaine and Ida Lupino (which is surprising, as she directed the film after all) but the present action scenes with them are better. The film does cheat Lupino out of any great emotive moments, while Fontaine gets a couple.

As the lead–but fourth-billed–O’Brien has trouble with the impossible role. After spending fifteen minutes making him a suspect, Young’s script spends the rest turning him into a hero. Except O’Brien can’t seem to get behind playing the role heroic, which causes a bit of a disconnect… not to mention a general disinterest in how the story turns out. I had been hoping they went for the cheap, obvious ending, which would have resulted in less melodrama (but robbed Kenneth Tobey of a great scene).

Lupino’s direction is somewhat stilted at times, but generally okay. Except the Los Angeles exteriors; they’re way too lifeless.

Just like the movie.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ida Lupino; screenplay by Collier Young, based on a story by Lawrence B. Marcus and Lou Schor; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Stanford Tischler; music by Leith Stevens; produced by Young; released by Filmmakers Releasing Organization.

Starring Edmond O’Brien (Harry Graham), Joan Fontaine (Eve Graham), Ida Lupino (Phyllis Martin), Edmund Gwenn (Mr. Jordan), Kenneth Tobey (Tom Morgan), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Connelley), Peggy Maley (Phone Operator), Lillian Fontaine (Miss Higgins), Matt Dennis (Singer) and John Maxwell (Judge).


The Thing from Another World (1951, Christian Nyby)

The Thing from Another World is a singular motion picture. It’s a combination of Howard Hawks’s fast-paced, overlapping dialogue and 1950s science fiction. It might even be the first of the 1950s sci-fi genre, the one setting the standard. There is a lot of supposition about the director’s chair–it is hard to believe television director Christian Nyby turns in such an exquisitely directed feature (his first), especially when Hawks is the film’s producer and so much of it has Hawks’s fingerprints. James Arness (the eponymous thing) has said it was Nyby, with Hawks on set a lot. Regardless, the film has some fantastic scenes, unlike anything in science fiction movies for years to come (until the filmmakers who watched The Thing got around to making their own movies).

But the technical achievement–down to the excellent use of Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for mood-generating effect–gets ousted, eventually, by the problematic script. The Thing is a metaphor for the battle against Communists in our ranks. If one’s looking for it, he or she can certainly read it in that manner. But just looking at the picture itself is far more interesting, because it reveals the defects related to propagandizing an unwilling production.

In the film, the scientists urge to discover–outweighing self-preservation–is evil. It’s also unbelievable. It doesn’t help Robert Cornthwaite’s make-up makes him look like a suspicious, mildly British intellectual, who must be bad news. The script sabotages any chance for Cornthwaite to turn in anything but a hackneyed performance. His character has less depth than a guest star on “The Love Boat” and makes a lot less sense.

There’s also the problem with Douglas Spencer, who plays the Hawks reporter. The Thing doesn’t exactly have room for a reporter, so they make room for him. He tells jokes (but not the film’s funniest ones, which involve air force captain Kenneth Tobey’s misadventures romancing Cornthwaite’s assistant, Margaret Sheridan) and spouts off about freedom of the press and gets to make the big “Watch the Skies” speech at the end. The reporter character is the film’s silliest part–it doesn’t fit and always seems contrived–and it really doesn’t help how bad a performance Spencer gives.

But on to the good performances. Tobey’s great as the captain and his romance with Sheridan provides all the tension relief the film needs. Tobey projects that 1950s sci-fi leading man calm perfectly, with the writing coming through to make he and his crew into (Hollywood) believable combat veterans. But it’s Dewey Martin who takes over the last third of the film as an enlisted man who comes up with every good idea. It’s a strange move–everyone just waits for him to tell them what they should do next–given the character isn’t even named in the end credits, just “Crew Chief.”

The film’s problems are those of its era, which–try as they might–can’t defeat its superiority. The Thing from Another World runs less than ninety minutes and, from around minute five, has the viewer totally engrossed (with nothing more than a plane flying over white Arctic expanses).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Nyby; screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on a story by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Roland Gross; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Howard Hawks; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Margaret Sheridan (Nikki), Kenneth Tobey (Captain Patrick Hendry), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Carrington), Douglas Spencer (Scotty), James R. Young (Lt. Eddie Dykes), Dewey Martin (Bob, Crew Chief), Robert Nichols (Lt. Ken McPherson), William Self (Corporal Barnes), Eduard Franz (Dr. Stern), Sally Creighton (Mrs. Chapman) and James Arness (The Thing).


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