20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH **** USA 1957 Dir: Nathan Juran. 82 mins
A stand-out 50’s monster movie from the director of THE DEADLY MANTIS and THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (amongst others), this nods to the crashed alien visitor of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, THE BLOB and THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT while also catering for the significant youth audience of these movies with a juvenile protagonist. After a typical 50’s narration, it opens in a fishing village in Sicily, where a US space rocket (the first manned flight to Venus) crashes into the Mediterranean, leaving its crew dead and washing up a cylinder discovered by local boy Pepe (Bart Braverman). Obsessed with American cowboy movies (he has a treasured hat) and yearning to go to Texas, Pepe unwittingly unleashes the creature inside, the Venusian “Ymir”, who rapidly grows due to exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere. Not ferocious unless provoked, the Ymir fights with a farmer’s dog and gets ever more monstrous while the sole survivor of the flight Colonel William Hopper (also a Col in THE BAD SEED a year earlier) flirts with “not quite a doctor” heroine Joan Taylor (who had similar thankless female lead duties on EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS).
Following the ground-breaking success of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, fledgling animator Ray Harryhausen made many memorable contributions to 50’s genre films, but this is holds up as the most ambitious and exciting. The action-packed pursuit of the creature, afforded significant screen time compared to many of its lower budgeted contemporaries, is peppered with terrific set pieces – notably a brilliantly animated / edited extended battle between Ymir and an elephant against the familiar backdrop of panicking extras. It’s surprisingly bloody and brutal and precedes one of the great action climaxes of 50’s monster movies, prefiguring the 70’s disaster movie fondness for destroying international landmarks. In the tradition of KING KONG, much sympathy is generated for the monster as the military unleash their firepower while he roars from the top of the Colosseum – and the last words offer a typical lament about humanity in the post-atomic age: “Why is it always so costly for men to move from the present to the future?”
Review by Steven West