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The first spaceship to Venus returns, crashlanding off the coast of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea. There's only one survivor from the expedition, the military colonel (William Hopper). There's also a special container; inside is a gelatinous egg; inside the egg is a lifeform - from Venus! This egg ends up in the hands of a local kid, Pepe (future TV actor Bart Braverman). Pepe sells the egg to the local zoologist. The egg soon hatches; the lifeform starts out as a man-shaped, lizard-like long-tailed beastie only about 8 inches tall but rapidly grows over the course of one day to over 2 feet in height and then twice that, breaking out of its cage; the thing has superhuman strength, easily bending the iron bars like putty.
It's assumed that something in Earth's atmosphere causes the unnatural growth in the creature; so this becomes a variation of The Amazing Colossal Man dilemma, combined with alien from outer space. It's a sample of a steadily worsening problem, suggesting that it may have been contained or nipped in the bud when the creature was dog-sized. By the time the Ymir (as it's known, though not named as such in the film itself) escapes the 2nd time, it's 20 feet tall, big enough to kill an elephant. Its rampage through Rome seems to accelerate its growth more than ever - you might blink a few times and realize that the Ymir is suddenly 40 feet tall! The plot at this point bears more than a passing resemblance to King Kong (1933).
A weakness to this film, for me, is the female lead character played by Joan Taylor, an 'almost doctor' whose early scene with Hopper sets the tone for the remainder of the film; he is trying to get an answer from a dying shipmate and has to tell her half-a-dozen times to be quiet as she repeatedly tries to interrupt him. There's just something grating about Taylor's character in this film - she's always angry or shrewish - and I was really surprised when Hopper's colonel finally begins romantic advances; I would've wanted to get away from her. Likewise, little troublemaker Pepe does his best to sabotage everyone's plans to find the specimen in the early going; he gets a big reward for his efforts - I found all this to be also annoying.
Ray Harryhausen's Ymir is one of his finest and most memorable creations. Some of the scenes, such as when the creature is looking for food in a barn, are very fluid and lifelike, and the design of the Ymir is fantastic; little wonder that it's become iconic by now. This was one of the few sf films of the fifties that might have worked better in color; Harryhausen wanted to do it in color, but there wasn't the budget for it. A colorized version was released on DVD in 2007 finally. Harryhausen hit his next high point in his very next film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
20 Million Miles of Trivia: John Zaremba also has a role here as a doctor who accompanies Hopper during most of the hunt for the creature and utters the film's final line; a decade later, he was a regular on The Time Tunnel series. Scenes took place in and were filmed in Rome because Harryhausen selected it; he hadn't been to Rome and wanted to vacation there.
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