KING OF THE KAIJUS: THE GIANT BEHEMOTH

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THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, I saw it on YouTube as BEHEMOTH, is a 1959 science fiction giant monster movie. The film stars American Gene Evans and British actor Andre Morell.

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The film begins with marine biologist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) lecturing to a British atomic energy symposium about the dangers to marine life posed by nuclear testing. Professor James Bickford (Andre Morell) heads the symposium. Meanwhile over in Cornwall a local fisherman is killed on the beach and when they find him his dying words are “behemoth.” Hence the title of the movie. A short time later thousands of dead fish are washed up on this very same beach.

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Karnes and Bickford arrive in Cornwall to investigate and although the fisherman’s injuries suggest radiation burns they find no evidence of radiation on the beach. A passenger ship is badly wrecked with no survivors and Karnes arrives later to investigate. In London, Karnes and Bickford discover that samples of the dead fish are contaminated with radiation. Karnes believes that the dead fisherman’s behemoth might be some kind of large marine creature that has been mutated by nuclear testing and that is what attacked the passenger ship.

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A farm near Essex is attacked next. A photo reveals a large footprint and Karnes and Bickford go to see a paleontologist named Sampson who identifies the creature as a Paleosaurus – an aquatic dinosaur that is electric like an eel. Karnes theorizes that the radioactive creature transmits his radiation thru his electric field and that is how he burned the fisherman. Sampson believes the creature is dying and heading upstream to the shallow waters where it was born. But he is going to destroy London along the way.

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The two scientists try to convince the authorities to close the River Thames. But the authorities believe that nothing can get past their radar and they will have ample warning. Guess what? The Behemoth is invisible to radar. A ferry pays the price for that mistake and so does Doctor Sampson who gets to close in a helicopter and it is destroyed.

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The Behemoth goes on land destroying cars and buildings and people. The two scientists come up with an idea to kill the Behemoth. They convince the military that the only way to stop it is to inject it with radium via a torpedo and that way speed up the radiation poisoning that is killing it. As they prepare the radium the Behemoth continues to rampage through London and then heads back into the Thames.

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A mini-sub with Karnes in it tracks the Behemoth. It takes a bite out of the mini-sub but Karnes convinces the sub captain to keep going. There is a reason why Karnes is the hero of the story. They finally succeed, the torpedo hits the giant monster, it roars in pain, and observer helicopters confirm it is dead.

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What did I not like about this movie:

This film is not very original. Even by 1959 giant aquatic radioactive monsters rampaging thru a city had become cliché and this movie makes no effort to try to break that cliché. It is content to fit into a minor niche in this genre with no ambition to be any better.

There is almost always a problem with monster movies and that problem is here in this film. The monster never lives up to expectations. Filmmakers go thru a lot of trouble to keep what the monster looks like from the audience until the end. But the big surprise is that our imaginations are greater than any movie magic and what we imagined the monster to be like is always bigger, badder, bolder, and scarier than what we eventually get. That happened here.

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What did I like:

I think Gene Evans is one of the great unsung character actors of the 1950s, 60s, and even 70s. He had a long career. I’ve seen him in everything from science fiction to westerns. He always has a knack for making you believe any situation. In this movie he makes Doctor Steve Karnes believable.

I first became aware of Andre Morell in Hammer Films’ THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES – which I already reviewed. He played an intelligent Doctor Watson and stole the movie. He brings that same grace and talent to this film.

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This movie is only 71 minutes long. The reason that is a plus is because it means they didn’t try to pad the story. They didn’t try to give us any non-meat fillers. The movie moves at a nice pace without dragging anywhere. It tells the story and then moves on.

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This movie also has an intelligent story. Yes it is a giant monster movie and it does have some of the giant monster tropes. But it also refrained from insulting us. For example, there is no female lead. A lot of these types of movies stick a female character in there for no other reasons then a damsel in distress and a romantic sub-plot. The closest this movie comes to having a female lead is the daughter of the dead fisherman and her character doesn’t stick around very long. No token female in this movie. Neither is there the handsome young character whose only purpose is to romance the female character. There was a fisherman character in the beginning who at first seemed as if he was going to be it. But nope – he didn’t stick around any longer than the girl – thank God! I found that refreshing.

            Instead of giving us a cheesy model or a guy in a rubber suit for the giant monster we got the great Wllis O’Brien doing his stop motion animation magic. This is the guy who did the original King Kong. That makes the scenes with the Behemoth better than most.

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Altogether I liked the movie. I don’t think it’s great but I did like it. So for that reason I’m going to recommend it for those who like me enjoy giant monster movies. I’m giving it three gray geeks.  

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Thank you all for taking another trip with me into the King of the Kaijus. I hope you had a good time. If so let me know. If not then go watch a movie and get over it. Until next time remember this – wherever you are there is where you be. Excelsior!

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