• Classic Horrors Club

Movie of the Week: The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)



You’d think I would learn by now. With its reputation (and a 3.5 IMDb rating), The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955) has always been at the bottom of my watch list. When Cathy Downs was nominated for a 2019 Monster Rally Retro Award (http://tinyurl.com/rallies2019) on Monster Kid Radio, I decided I needed to watch it to be able to vote objectively.

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Now, I can’t say that she deserves to win, especially when nominated against Mara Corday, Lori Nelson and Faith Domergue (twice), but I can tell you I enjoyed the movie itself immensely! In fact, there’s nothing about it I really disliked, not even the monster. Sure, it’s a big mask on a human body that’s supposed to be some type of mutated marine life, but it works for me in the context of the movie.

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Milner Brother Productions (Jack and Dan, producers, and Dan, director) aren’t ashamed of their monster; it appears in the very first scene before the credits even roll. Dr. Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor) later calls it a “sea serpent, a hideous creature that defies description,” That’s being mighty generous. It looks to me more like a demented seahorse.

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We don’t see it often, and when we do, it’s through murky underwater photography. This cinematography is a stark contrast to the crystal clear picture on the rest of the Kino Lorber DVD that I watched, but doesn’t seem out of place. Moreover, the creature itself takes a backseat to the mysterious “shaft of light” coming up from the bottom of the ocean, even though it murders five people.

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There’s a stronger than usual plot driving the story (credited to Dorys Lukather), the screenplay (by Lou Rusoff) is sometimes humorous, and the actors give likable performances. Rusoff subsequently wrote Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), and The She-Creature (1956), all – guess what – movies I’ve never seen due to their reputations. (That’s going to change… soon.)

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Dan Milner later directed From Hell It Came (1957), only one of three movies for which he was credited as director. His resume is filled mostly with credits as an editor, and The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was his third-from-last film. None of his previous films as an editor were of the genre. I’d say he learned something along the way, though. He seems to maximize a shoestring budget here.

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For example, the interiors are obviously filmed on sets, but they are very well dressed sets. If not for the size and shape of the rooms, I don’t think you’d know. And the attention to detail is superb. An exterior shot of the door leading into Professor King’s beach house has a distinctive curtain hanging on the window. The door in the reverse shot from the set inside uses the same curtain.

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This may sound like small praise, but we’ve all seen movies that don’t pay this much attention to continuity. In a little more heavy-handed example, King tells Stevens he can let himself into the house, and then further explains how and why they leave the door unlocked. You know there’s soon going to be a plot point regarding his unexpected entry, but at least the script makes a point of explaining it.

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The more-complex-than-necessary plot revolves around the technology used to create the shaft of light, which is described as reminiscent of work Stevens pioneered – the world’s “first workable death ray,” created by an atomic chain reaction in water. This could make Stevens a red herring for the villain, I suppose, but he’s never portrayed as a human counterpart to the actual monster.

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That could be one of several other people: King himself, who works behind the locked door of a lab that to which everyone else wants access; George Thomas (Phillip Pine), one of King’s students who lurks in the bushes, frequently fondling his spear gun; Ethel Hall (Vivi Janiss), King’s secretary who’s conducting her own investigation; and Wanda (Helene Stanton), a mysterious platinum blonde.

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A movie called The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, with a cut-rate sea monster like this one, dares to include international espionage in its plot! That takes some gumption, don’t you think? Although it’s not vital to the story, it provides substance and lies there for us to consider as we will. I may be floating out too far in my rowboat on this one, but I’m going to at least double that 3.5 IMDb rating.

Written by Lou Rusoff

Original story by Dorys Lukather

Directed by Dan Milner

Starring Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs, Michael Whalen, Helene Stanton, Phillip Pine, Rodney Bell, Vivi Janiss Released December, 1955 RT 81 min.

Home Video Kino Lorber (Multi-Format)

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