The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues directed by Dan Milner
Although I really do try to keep an objective mind when it comes to my cinematic adventures, I must confess that The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955) already had one strike against it, personally speaking, as I sat down to peruse it recently. I mean, how dare this picture rip off the title of one of my favorite films of all time, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)? The fact that the esteemed Maltin’s Movie Guide gives Phantom its lowest BOMB rating did not bother me overmuch (the editors there are a notoriously grumpy bunch as regards genre fare), but an attempt to overtly copy one of the greatest monster movies ever made … not forgivable! Anyway, as it turns out, despite the negative word of mouth and blatant title riffing of a beloved classic (actually, that title is almost as silly as the one from Beast; if a league really is 2.4 to 4.6 miles, that would give an ocean depth for the Phantom creature of some 40,000 miles … patent BS; but then again, a title such as The Phantom From 40 Feet really doesn’t sound all that imposing, right?), the film in question was kinda fun, and even interesting, in some surprising ways.
In it, the viewer encounters hunky-dude scientist Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor, who would go on to star in the psychotronic Filipino wonder Brain of Blood), who is working for the U.S. government to get to the bottom of a rash of killings that have occurred off the California (?) coast. It seems that several bodies have recently washed ashore, with radiation burns on them. Meanwhile, an unnamed foreign power is seeking information about the lab work of another scientist, the Pacific College of Oceanography’s Professor King (Michael Whalen, soon to star in the legendary Missile to the Moon), and his experiments with radioactive effects on sea life. Stevens, who has also done work along those lines, dives into the ocean along the coast and discovers a radioactive rock that is guarded by a manlike, tusked, reptilian monster!
During the course of his investigation, he romances Dr. King’s daughter, Lois (pretty Cathy Downs, whose career had started out well, in such major-studio films as My Darling Clementine and The Dark Corner, and who would soon be starring in such baby-boomer-favorite horror fare as The She-Creature, The Amazing Colossal Man and, again, Missile to the Moon). Meanwhile, to add to the confusion (and I must admit that the film is a tad confusing to watch, at least during the first half hour of its 72-minute running time), King’s lab assistant, George (Phillip Pine, who many Trekkers will recognize as Colonel Green from 1969’s “The Savage Curtain”), is being pressured by those foreign powers to come up with King’s secrets, while the professor’s secretary, Ethel (Vivi Janiss), is behaving very mysteriously herself….
Today, The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues is historically noteworthy as being part of the first mind-boggling double feature to be released by American Releasing Corp., soon to be known as American International Pictures (AIP). It was released along with Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended, which, come to think of it, also featured a monster that was birthed via the mutating effects of atomic radiation. The films were a great success; Phantom had had a production budget of $75K, and the double bill ultimately brought in $400K. And for good reason! Despite the Maltin assessment, Phantom is hardly deserving of that BOMB rating. Director Dan Milner makes some interesting choices in his mutant movie, and some of his camera angles are striking. The film features very nice-looking nighttime and underwater photography, and the film looks just fine overall. The acting is fairly solid, and the picture, with that compact running time, never wears out its welcome.
Another plus, and one that I would have appreciated as a little kid: We do not have to wait more than 30 seconds before we get our first good look at the monster in question. Strangely enough, the monster here is not stressed as a major selling point, and never really seems all that menacing. It never leaves the vicinity of the radioactive boulder that had birthed it, and only harms those who swim directly into its clutches, never even venturing onto the shore. (The darn thing is really about as dangerous as a moray eel, in effect. Don’t go near it and you’ll be okay.) Rather, the film seems to be more interested in dishing out those cloak-and-dagger antics previously alluded to, and to gaping at Ms. Downs as she lounges in her bathing suit on the beach and looks at her brassiered torso in a mirror. The monster in the film is actually kind of pitiful, and way too easily dispatched by the film’s conclusion. Compared to the previous year’s Creature From the Black Lagoon, another vaguely reptilian-looking underwater dweller, the Phantom is just a lethargic doofus, with an energy level barely above that of a sea cucumber. Nice to know that not ALL radioactive menaces have super-high energy levels, I suppose.
Anyway, the bottom line is that The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues, while certainly not the worst way to pass an hour and a quarter, is fairly bottom rung when it comes to memorable menaces. In truth, Phillip Pine wielding a badly aimed spear gun turns out to be a much more intimidating proposition here…