20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH
(director/writer: Nathan Juran; screenwriter: Bob Williams/Christopher Knopf; cinematographer: Irving Lippman/Carlos Ventigmilia; editor: Edwin Bryant; music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff; special effects: Ray Harryhausen; cast: William Hopper (Colonel Bob Calder), Joan Taylor (Marisa Leonardo), Frank Puglia (Dr. Leonardo), Thomas Browne Henry (Gen. A.D. McIntosh), John Zaremba (Dr. Judson Uhl), Tito Vuolo (Comisario of Police), Bart Bradley (Pepe); Runtime: 82; Columbia; 1957)
“This is special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen’s baby.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A huge American rocket ship heading back from a 13 month secret mission to Venus, hits a meteor and crash-lands in the Mediterranean waters off a small Sicilian fishing village called Gerra. Of the 17 member crew, only Colonel Bob Calder (William Hopper, son of gossip columnist Hedda) survives. The narrator opens the film by proudly stating that man has advanced so far that he has journeyed 20 million miles away from Earth.
Two fishermen and a young boy, Pepe, are nearby in their small fishing boat. They are able to pull out two survivors: the mission’s pilot and leader, Colonel Bob Calder, and the researcher, Dr. Sharman. But the doctor dies from a rare disease contacted in Venus, but not before he hands over his notes to Calder. The doctor took back a gelatinous blob he sealed in a metal container, in order to study why animals can survive in Venus. For man the atmosphere is poisonous. Calder voices concern that the container has not been found, and therefore mankind might not benefit from such new knowledge.
Pepe, the fisherboy, finds the container and sells it to zoologist Dr. Leonardo so he can buy a Texas cowboy hat. He will later sell this info of where the blob is to Pentagon General McIntosh for a whopping half a million lire — but by doing so he loses his cuteness as greed takes over his materialistic dreams.
Soon this lump of jelly find of the boy’s rapidly evolves into a living reptilian creature, which the scientists label as “Ymir”. On the road to Rome to bring their prize creature to a research facility are the zoologist and his grand-daughter Marisa (Joan Taylor), a medical student treating Colonel Calder. They are driving in a van with the creature hooked onto the back tow and placed in a covered cage. But the creature grows quickly to the size of a man and breaks out of his cage — running into the woods.
The colonel and General McIntosh come up with a plan to drop a metallic net on it from a helicopter and then to electrically charge it. This causes the animal to sleep. But when in captivity in the research center it grows immense and escapes and takes a dip in the Tiber, successfully battles a zoo elephant and retreats to the Colosseum.
“20 Million” is directed by Nathan Juran (“Attack of the 50 Foot Woman“) in a workmanlike manner. Christopher Knopf provides a probing script. But this is special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen’s baby, and he shows why he’s a master of that craft — the best since his mentor Willis O’Brien (the creator of King Kong). He creates a blubbery-looking scaly monster who grows immense and wreaks havoc on Rome. The monster only attacks when frightened. Therefore it’s easy to sympathize with the monster, even in the showdown in the Colosseum.
REVIEWED ON 4/16/2002 GRADE: C