The Giant Behemoth is a documentary directed by Eugène Lourié and Douglas Hickox and released in 1959. It looks at the effects of nuclear testing and the disposal of waste on the ocean’s bottom and how it effects sea life and the environment. Scientist Steve Karnes hypothesizes that should the nuclear waste leak out into the ocean once the lead containers have rusted away, it could prove disastrous. What would happen to the fish, or the waters of our Earth should such a calamity take place? That is the question he poses in this revealing look at man’s folly. During the film he takes us to various locales where people have died of radiation poisoning. But it is not as he suspects and the film uncovers the existence of a giant reptilian monster. As people are literally attacked on-screen, we are treated to this monster, this prehistoric Paleosaurus who is possibly contaminated by radiation and we learn of its effects as the army, the authorities and Karnes himself try and put a stop to this creature before anyone else can get hurt.
Okay, so maybe this is not a documentary, but it does feature a giant monster affected by radiation much like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Godzilla. It also has the monster run amok, as much as it does run, like War of the Colossal Man and The Valley of Gwangi, crashing through town and killing people and just causing all sorts of mayhem. Also like those very movies, none of it is the poor creature’s part. It is just doing what it would normally do, and it also has to be a little scared as it is now in a world it no longer recognizes. Sure, the food source is now far more plentiful, but with all the noise and technology that modernity has to offer, it is enough to throw any being clearly out of their element off their rocker.
The cast does a great job, and this being an English and American co-production, it features actors and actresses of all sorts of descents. Gene Evans as Steve Karnes is our lead protagonist and he does a great job of the scientist whose greatest fears materialize right before him. André Morell of Quartermass and the Pit fame stars as Professor James Bickford while the rest of the cast also includes John Turner, Leigh Madison and Jack MacGowran. Karnes and Bickford, or Evans and Morell, make a great team in the film and really complement each other as they try to do whatever they can to stop the monster. What really makes the film good though is how serious all of the respective players take it. There is a lot of consternation and stress going on during the movie when they are all trying to think of ways to deal with the creature. When you can show that you believe in the subject, no matter how silly it might be, you know you are watching a good film.
The special effects were decent, as far as they could be anyway. Most films of this kind all used similar methods and this movie was no exception using models and stop motion techniques to pull off the look and feel that it needed. Computers being non-existent at this time in history, it is amazing what people were able to pull off with camera trickery and ingenuity. The monster may not look the greatest, in fact looking incredibly fake but it does make the film fun and half of believability is imagination which sometimes has to be used to enjoy something like this. With cinematographers Desmond Davis and Ken Hodges on board as well as a special effects department that included Willis H. O’Brien who worked on the original King Kong, they managed to do a pretty decent job all things considering.
At the beginning of the film, Karnes poses a problem to a group of respected men and though he does so and essentially receives his answer with the arrival of the irradiated monster, it is science-fiction. But it is an interesting question and one that the learned men and women of the world may not be thinking of at the moment. But if things should turn sour and the ocean suddenly becomes a wasteland of polluted waters, it is doubtful that any strange, giant creatures would rear their heads. It would most likely just kill everything within itself, poison the Earth and cause irreversible damage for a good long time. Doom and gloom aside, the film had a decent plot and script and was ultimately a nice little romp of science-fiction wonder, not as good as some, but enjoyable and fun.