The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955)

“It was being guarded by a—a sea serpent! A hideous beast that defies description!”


Director:  Dan Milner

Starring:  Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs, Michael Whalen, Rodney Bell, Philip Pine, Vivi Janiss, Helene Stanton

Screenplay:  Lou Rusoff, from a story by Dorys Lukather




Synopsis:  While out with his nets, a fisherman sees a strange light in the ocean. A monster rises from near the light, knocking the man into the water and dragging him to his death. His body and the boat later wash up on the shore. While walking on the beach, Ted Baxter (Kent Taylor) sees someone standing over the body, who flees as he approaches. Ted examines the body, and as he is doing so is confronted and questioned by William S. Grant (Rodney Bell), a Special Investigator for the Department of Defense. Ted explains that he is in town to see Professor King (Michael Whalen), the head of the Pacific College of Oceanography. He then points out that the fisherman’s body and his boat seem to have radiation burns. As the two men are talking, Grant sees someone watching them from the bushes. Calling the man out, Grant identifies him as George Thomas (Philip Pine), Professor King’s assistant. Nearby, Professor King hurriedly enters his house. His daughter, Lois (Cathy Downs), notices that his shoes and pants legs are soaking wet. King explains that he was collecting marine specimens. Lois observes that although the College is on vacation, he appears to be working harder than ever. She adds that George, his assistant, and Ethel (Vivi Janiss), his secretary, are constantly questioning her about his work, which he keeps secret. King reacts angrily. There is a knock at the door, and King instructs Lois to tell their visitor that he has been asleep in bed for the past hour. As King goes into his room, Lois admits Ted, who asks to see King. Lois tells her father’s story, but Ted notices wet footprints on the floor. Insisting that his business is urgent, Ted makes Lois enter King’s bedroom. To Lois’s surprise and embarrassment, they find that King has left through the window. The next morning, Ted is examining the fisherman’s burned boat with a Geiger counter when he is again accosted by Grant, who tells him that he knows his real name is Ted Stevens, and that he is an expert on the effects of radiation on marine life. At the College, Ethel tries to gather information about King’s experiments. George catches her with a paper dropped by King, and tells her that any help she gives him in uncovering King’s secrets could be worth a lot of money. In his laboratory, King conducts an experiment with a small turtle, exposing it to a source of light similar to that out in the ocean. Ted takes out a small boat and goes out diving in the area where the fisherman was attacked. As he explores the ocean floor, he sees first the strange light, then the hideous creature that seems to be guarding it…

Comments:  By the middle of 1955, the fledgling American Releasing Corporation was locked in the middle of a life and death struggle, trying to find a way of getting their low-budget productions onto the top half of their exhibitors’ double-bills, that rarefied realm where profit was to be had. The solution that James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff came up with was a version of the major studios’ by-then-outlawed system of block-booking, a kind of love me, love my dog arrangement wherein ARC would make and release both halves of a double-bill, and offer them at a price lower than that asked for most single productions from the majors; low enough that exhibitors might be willing to overlook any, ahem, slight artistic flaws.

So far, so good; except that having come up with this plan, ARC suddenly needed to have multiple films ready for release at the same time. Nicholson and Arkoff had taken a huge step forward the previous year by entering into collaboration with Roger Corman, whose energy and application soon became the stuff of legend, and whose skill at penny-pinching matched their own.

(That Corman was also a remarkably talented individual ranked, of course, a distant third on the list of his qualifications.)

But ARC’s new and urgent demand for releasable product meant that not even Roger Corman’s fecundity was enough to keep the company afloat. Nicholson and Arkoff began looking around for other small independent outfits who could supplement Corman’s output; and since the ability to work quickly and cheaply far outweighed any consideration of quality of end product, they soon found them.

Dan Milner had been an editor for the preceding two decades; his brother Jack had gotten a foot in the ARC door by working on the sound editing of Roger Corman’s first effort as producer, Monster From The Ocean Floor; a contribution that subsequently won him an associate producer’s gig on The Fast And The Furious. The Milners wanted to produce, and Nicholson and Arkoff gave them the chance, cutting a deal that – naturally – gave themselves the lion’s share of any profits.

Jim Nicholson had already come up with a title – and some highly misleading advertising art – while Lou Rusoff, who had written Apache Woman, Roger Corman’s second directorial effort, earlier the same year and became one of the company regulars thereafter, was again given the screenwriting assignment. Cinema-goers were promised “FREEZING HORROR!” – whatever that is – and “a living nightmare” that “strikes from the depths of the sea”; while the poster showed a vaguely dragon-like monster (not, it must be said, a particularly terrifying one) dragging a bikini-clad diver to her doom. What the film delivered was, in what was already a proud ARC tradition, somewhat different…

Remember how Roger Corman wasn’t allowed to call his first production “It Stalked The Ocean Floor”? But around here, nothing gets wasted!

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues opens upon a dead flat stretch of water upon which very little is happening, thus masterfully setting the tone for everything that is to follow. A fisherman in a small row-boat, with the entire ocean to choose from, manages to stop directly over a strange beam of light that, while he notices it, causes him no particular concern, nor inspires him to choose a different fishing spot; he proceeds to cast his nets.

And next to the light, as the fisherman manages not to notice, is our monster, and one sorry-ass critter it is, too—and not in a charming, Paul Blaisdell kind of way, either: vaguely humanoid, vaguely reptilian, clearly bipedal, mostly immobile, and altogether goofy-looking. And we get a clear view of all of this within forty-five seconds of the film’s opening shot. Clearly, we are in the hands of master film-makers.

The creature opens its brutal assault by gently bumping the underside of the row-boat with the horn on its nose. The fisherman having obligingly stood up, he is now tipped into the water. (Would a professional fisherman really scream and flail upon falling into the water?) What follows is, surely, one of the greatest monster attacks ever captured on film, as our “phantom” first shoves his nose into the fisherman’s crotch like an over-friendly dog, then makes a serious effort to pants him.

Thwarted by an immovable belt (never underestimate the power of men’s clothing of the fifties!), the monster then grabs the fisherman around the leg and, um, does something else that invites comparison with an over-friendly dog. At last the fisherman is dragged under the water and, apparently, drowned. He was probably glad to go.

Not one but TWO marks of quality!

I suppose we should at least address the misapprehension inherent in this film’s title. While they are by no means the only people ever to make this mistake, it is hard not to wince at the fact that Jim Nicholson and the Milners ended up emblazoning their mutual ignorance of what a “league” is all over their production and its advertising art.

The fisherman’s body casts up on the beach; and naturally, his boat casts up only a few feet from it. Over the next few minutes, this otherwise deserted stretch of shoreline becomes a positive hive of activity, despite it being – or so it seems – the middle of the night. Another of this film’s artistic triumphs makes itself felt here, as we peer, not for the last time, through the gloom of some of the worst day-for-night photography seen outside of a Larry Buchanan movie. This was cinematographer Brydon Baker’s first film as DP, as it was Dan Milner’s as director, and it shows in every murky frame. You can tell when it’s supposed to be broad daylight here, but that’s about all. Otherwise, whether it is dawn or dusk or midnight is entirely a matter of inference. In any case, all of the non-day shots are far too dark…yet everyone manages to cast a clear shadow across the beach…

(Apropos, I apologise for the quality of the screenshots, but there’s only so much you can do.)

The first person to stumble across the dead fisherman is not revealed to us. Instead we see only his loafers and his pants legs as he inspects the body. (This is shot like it’s a big mystery, although the person’s identity is revealed scant minutes later.) Only moments later, a second person happens onto the scene, causing the first person to take a powder. The newcomer, clad in suit and tie and dress shoes – perfect fifties beachwear – is bending over the body when a third person shouts, “Don’t touch that!”

Another suit-wearer appears, identifying himself as William S. Grant, a Special Investigator for the Department of Defense, and compelling Suit #1 to identify himself as, “Ted Baxter, beachcomber and tourist”. Which I guess explains the suit. And as these two are exchanging pleasantries, a fourth person stumbles across the scene, being called out of his hiding-place in the bushes nearby by Grant.


He emerges, trying desperately to look unsuspicious despite the whole bush-hiding thing, and the fact that he’s carrying a spear-gun. Grant recognises him as George Thomas, assistant to Professor King of the Pacific College of Oceanography. According to George, he was coming to the beach to collect specimens when he saw two people standing over a dead body, and decided that hiding in the bushes was the sensible thing to do: the first and last reasonable action of which George will be guilty.

Meanwhile, the owner of the loafers has entered a beach house nearby, where he is scolded by a youngish woman for the whole coming-in-with-wet-shoes thing. Subsequent conversation reveals that these two are Professor King and his daughter, Lois. Naturally, King being a brilliant scientist, the laws of nature dictate that Lois must be as dim as this film’s photography.

(I much prefer The Simpsons’ take on this, wherein Lisa fails to inherit the dreaded “Simpson gene” because it’s Y-linked.)

Much of the subsequent interaction between father and daughter is quite hilarious, with King Senior making purple, portentous speeches about SCIENCE!! on the slightest provocation and King Junior blinking at him in blank confusion.

During his rather haphazard interrogation by Grant, Ted Baxter did reveal that he had a letter of introduction to Professor King and was on his way to his house (oh, okay, I guess that explains the suit). Hearing a knock on the door, King looks around in alarm, and orders the bewildered Lois – in a voice that I rather doubt wouldn’t be heard on the other side of what is a fairly flimsy front door, and which is, besides, only half-covered by a curtain – to tell anyone who asks that he has been in bed and asleep for the last hour.

It’s the middle of the night. You can tell from his shadow.

As he scarpers for his bedroom, Lois is left to answer the door, which she does by opening it and saying, “Come in!” without bothering to find out who their caller is. Serve her right if it’d been Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lois stumbles through her father’s flimsy cover story, to which Ted responds with a glance at the wet shoe-prints all over the carpet. He insists upon King being rousted out. Lois obeys, but finds to her embarrassment that her old man has done a bunk through the bedroom window.

Now, let’s see: older scientist, prettyish daughter, younger scientist— Yup, the components are all in place; and throughout this film, Ted and Lois will enact for us one of the most painful romantic relationships of all fifties science fiction (think about that for a moment, folks). Now, in a film like this, I suppose a Cute-Meet is inevitable; but Ted and Lois never seem to do anything but Cute-Meet. Their entire relationship seems to have come about via Lou Rusoff working his way down a checklist of clichés.

Meanwhile, during this oddly well-lit middle of the night, the elusive Professor King is sitting on the beach by the row-boat, gazing thoughtfully out to sea or jotting down notes. As he turns away he finds a turtle that just happens to be sitting right by the boat and scoops it up with a satisfied smirk that bodes very ill for the turtle.

(I think it’s a Western pond turtle; if so, that’s a freshwater species.)

A cutaway then shows us that King is being spied on by George, who is once again, yup, lurking in the bushes.

I’m starting to worry about George.

“Mmm… Coco-nutty!”
(A gold star to anyone who gets that reference.)

Baxter’s little chat with Grant revealed that the fisherman’s body was “rigid with radiation burns”, and that the boat was also burned, despite there being no sign of a fire. The next morning (and yes, we can tell it’s morning!), Grant finds Baxter inspecting the boat with a Geiger counter. No beachcombing holiday is complete without one. Grant proceeds to blow whatever is left of “Baxter”’s flimsy cover by hailing him as Ted Stevens, oceanographer, an expert on the effects of radiation on marine life, and the author of a no-doubt best-selling tome called Nature’s Own Death Ray. Grant clearly considers Baxter / Stevens a suspect in whatever the hell it is that’s going on, which amuses the scientist for reasons that will shortly be revealed.

And then we move into this film’s most painful aspect – even worse than its romance – the suspicious doings at Professor King’s laboratory. King himself is Suspicious Character Uno, triple-locking his laboratory door and ranting about the untrustworthiness of George and his secretary, Ethel. As it happens, this isn’t just the usual Mad Scientist paranoia talking: he’s right on the money. Both George and Ethel spend most of their time tugging unavailingly at the locks on King’s door and snooping into anything they can find to snoop into, all of it done in such a clumsy and cack-handed way that you end up feeling rather sorry for them. George, in addition, tends to go everywhere accessorised by that damn spear-gun, which doesn’t exactly lend an unobtrusive air to his behaviour. Why King doesn’t just fire the pair of them is left as one of Life’s Little Mysteries.

A chat between Ethel and the janitor informs us that the fisherman was the third of “The Phantom”’s victims, and also – amusingly, given the traffic across the beach the previous evening – that his body hasn’t been officially found. Still more amusingly, it transpires that even Andy the janitor is fully aware of George’s spying activities – “I seen him! Hiding behind trees!” Andy, indeed, gets the final word on the subject:

Janitor:  “It ain’t normal—this carrying on!”

Just your average American beachcomber, circa 1955.

The entrance of King himself puts an end to the conversation. A painful amount of the film’s running-time is subsequently spent on the locking and unlocking of Professor King’s door, as well as on King’s peculiar dress rituals, wherein he enters, strips off his suit jacket, and puts on his lab coat – because he’s a SCIENTIST!! – before unlocking the door. Once inside, he re-locks the door, strips off his lab coat, and then puts on what in context I suppose is meant to be a radiation suit, but which looks more like one of those cloth coveralls that forensic investigators wear in some parts of the world.

King gives the turtle one more inspection, then leaves it lying on its back. Bastard.

Ah, but we have not yet reached the limits of King’s bastardry! He fires up a piece of Unidentified Scientifica, which starts beeping ominously, places the turtle in a tank, and subjects it to a high-powered light beam. A series of fades first shows us the turtle growing and mutating – you may insert your own “Gamera” joke here – and finally emerging from the process as a fully-fledged Phantom.

Actually, this is as close as The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues gets to “art”, because the Phantom in that final fade is not the outcome of Professor King’s new experiment, but the one already out in the bay, where Ted Baxter-Stevens is busy exercising his Hero’s Death Battle Exemption©, rowing out to the same area as the fisherman and diving into the water. How and why he ends up in this spot is never explained; nor indeed do we learn why, with an entire open bay to choose from, everyone who ventures into or onto the water ends up in this exact same place.

The thing we do learn, though, is that we were better off with Ted in his suit: the man’s taste in swimmers is, to say the least, dubious. (Polka dots. That’s all I have to say on the subject.)


After scuba-swimming around for a while, Ted sees the light – so to speak – and then he sees the Phantom. He beats a hasty retreat and makes it safely back to his boat, where his panicky, crab-catching rowing is actually one of the film’s more credible moments. Of course he makes it safely to shore, and staggers up the sand looking back at the water. Cute-Meet #2 then follows as, with an entire beach at his disposal, Ted manages to walk straight into the only person on it: Lois King. The two engage in some agonising flirtation, which I’ll spare you, until Lois announces her intention of going in for a swim. Ted insists that she not do so, and she gives in to his evident sincerity, although he never offers – nor she ask for – any real explanation.

Later, Ted finally gets around to calling on King, introducing himself as Baxter and describing the radiation burns on the fisherman’s body before asking for information on the topography and geology of the bay. Glancing nervously sideways and fiddling with his tie (he, Ethel and George make a great team), King agrees to supply these while also stalling, then gives us a chilling intimation of Cute-Meets yet to come by inviting Ted to his house to pick up the charts, telling him that if no-one’s home, he should, “Just walk in”.

Ted having departed, King locks himself in his lab and draws from his briefcase a copy of that runaway best-seller, Biological Effects Of Radiation On Marine Life, by Dr Ted Stevens…which has as its cover-piece a huge head-shot of Ted. I honestly don’t know what’s funnier: that, as a book cover design, or the fact that Ted assumes a false identity to investigate the one person in California, possibly in the world, guaranteed to recognise him on sight.

Later that afternoon, Ted pays that call on the Kings. Naturally, Lois prepares very carefully for this unexpected visit, taking a shower, and leaving her change of clothing out in the living-room; a living-room guarded by a door with a window.

Who could possibly have foreseen the tiny detail that would blow Ted’s cover?

Sure enough, Lois doesn’t hear Ted’s knock, so he lets himself in; and, although he must hear her shower, he nevertheless sits right down…on a chair directly opposite the bathroom door. The inevitable happens…followed, remarkably enough, by the even more inevitable: when Lois dresses, her zipper gets stuck.

You know, most writers would take an either/or approach to this kind of material, but not Lou Rusoff!

(Hey, and Ted sees her bra!! This is, what, 1955? That means they’re engaged, right?)

(Oh, and Ted? Stop calling her “Shirley”!!)

King arrives, and Lois excuses herself. King calls Ted “Dr Stevens”, laying to rest that entirely unnecessary subplot, and produces the charts that Ted asked for….only the key ones are mysteriously missing. A “submerged deposit of uranium” emerges as the culprit in all this – the non-human culprit. Ted then goes on to confess his Close Encounter Of The Idiotic Kind, at which King scoffs in a fair assumption of the time-honoured sceptical scientist manner, making reference to, “The ridiculous Phantom stories running wild in the village”. The village!? Where are we, Transylvania?

Most of the dialogue here is ludicrous, as is the science, but in the middle of the idiocy we do get one sweet moment of clarity when Ted sums up the perverse lure of science in a few neat words: “In science, we look for one thing, and find another.”

(Or as Isaac Asimov put it, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science is not ‘Eureka!’, but, ‘That’s funny’.”)

Ted walks in……………………………………………sees the underwear………………..and sits down to enjoy the show.

Ted insists that someone  – *cough, cough* – has managed to reproduce in the bay his own laboratory-bound experiments, in which he, “Activated the hydrogen isotopes” in heavy water, thus creating a weapon that, “Could destroy anything coming in contact with it”; in short, “Nature’s Own Death-Ray”, which as you might recall just happens to be the title of Ted’s other book. Gee, Ted…maybe you shouldn’t have been so very explicit in that book about how to do all this, huh? Or maybe King just didn’t read that bit about, “Kids, don’t try this at home!”

King blusters, until Ted reveals the reason he personally doesn’t suspect the Professor of being responsible for “the Phantom” and the three deaths: it isn’t just a matter of science; A Certain Unnamed Foreign Power is sniffing around this discovery, and someone is selling secrets.

At this, King is genuinely shocked—and even more so when a phone-call from Grant informs him that the G-man is planning a dive. Ted notes that King, who was offhand enough at his description of the Phantom, is now sincerely disturbed…and draws his conclusions.

King, meanwhile, is drawing conclusions of his own, and ends up threatening Ethel with yet another spear-gun. Ethel, being innocent – of espionage, anyway – calls Grant, whose number she evidently has memorised, to tell him what she knows about King.

Elsewhere, George is meeting the motivation of his own bizarre behaviour: the representative of A Certain Unnamed Foreign Power, a female spy called Wanda, who makes the goons from KAOS seem like dedicated professionals.

Being in the pay of A Certain Unnamed Foreign Power, George tried to avoid drawing attention to himself.

Actually, to give the devil his due, the handling of George’s subplot is the only piece of subtle – as opposed to inexplicable – writing in the whole film. Clearly, George’s hormones have been writing cheques his scientific abilities can’t cash. In his pursuit not just of a big payday, but of Wanda, George has claimed at least half credit for King’s discoveries, and has taken a cash advance from that Certain Unnamed Foreign Power on that basis. Now it’s time for him to deliver the other half, and his panic levels are, understandably, rising.

Wanda, a blonde, slinky item, intimates to George that he’d better get a move on, as she is leaving in two days. She orders him to stop Grant’s dive at all cost. George’s response is to attempt to sabotage the dive, by dropping pills into the airline of the diving equipment that Grant is borrowing from the College. I’m not sure how these are supposed to work; I assume they’re supposed to be poison, although they look more like aspirin. Remarkably, George proves himself psychic here, tampering with a second set of diving equipment, even though he couldn’t know that Ted would be going too.

Meanwhile, Ethel is meeting Grant at a diner, where she reveals the reason for her own peculiar behaviour, namely that her only son was drowned while out collecting specimens for Professor King; she got her job as a kind of compensation. (Intriguingly, Ethel is referred to throughout the film as “Miss Hall” and “miss”: progressive thinking, or just careless writing?) She manages to convince Grant that King is somehow involved in what’s going on, and he promises to get her a set of keys with which she can break into the laboratory. What neither of them knows is that Wanda is in the next booth. Only partly overhearing, she wrongly assumes that they’re talking about George…which is just too bad for him.

“Despite the radiation burns and the claw-marks, I’m sure this was just a boating accident…”

Breaking up all of this skull-duggery is a short insert in which your typical Young Couple In Love goes out for a dive, and ends up falling foul of the Phantom. And again, the female half of the couple, having just completed a scuba-dive, screams hysterically when the boat tips over.

This sequence is less notable for its addition to the body count than it is for proving conclusively that the budget for The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues stretched to precisely one row-boat: the fisherman’s boat at the beginning is Ted’s dive boat is the couple’s dive boat…and we aren’t done yet.

The shots of the young lovers going off to dive in what looks like broad daylight are intercut with Lois preparing for a date with Ted in what looks like the middle of the night (and also with Ethel’s meeting with Grant, which really is at night). The other highlight of this section of the film is Michael Whalen, at the age of fifty-three, referring to Kent Taylor, a mere forty-eight, as “A very bright young man”.

This being the kind of film it is, Ted opens his date with Lois with an invitation to walk on that same damn stretch of beach…which on all available evidence, also comprises the whole of their date. (Hey, scientists aren’t that well paid, okay??) Of course, on the way home they stumble over the latest batch of corpses – and the boat, lying just next to them – and although they are walking towards Lois’s home, when Ted tells her to “run home” and call Mr Grant – her house is about a minute in front of them, just the other side of the wharf – she runs off in the direction they came from.

Meanwhile, up in the bushes – natch – George is lurking. He fires the inevitable spear-gun at Ted, but misses…thus providing The Authorities with a perfect specimen of his fingerprints. Jerk.

These three scenes take place simultaneously. No, really.

At this belated point, Grant reveals that he knows who Ted is, the Powers-That-Be having finally informed him of their decision to send in two independent investigators, reasoning that two different viewpoints might yield more information than just one.

(In a moment to make Dr Freud dance with joy, Kent Taylor’s reading here makes this, “Two indifferent investigations.”)

Grant also remarks that, “I think I’ll take this spear to the crime-lab” – no wonder Washington wanted two investigators – and invites Ted to join him on his dive. The pair manage to avoid George’s trap – mostly by spitting out the pill and saying, “Hey, there’s an aspirin in my airline!” – and Grant, being enveloped in the cloak of Ted’s HDBE©, also survives an encounter with the Phantom. Grant comes out of the experience believing that King is responsible for everything; Ted, that George is.

Speaking of George, he meets with Wanda at their usual trysting place. Here we discover the real reason the two were attracted in the first place, namely their mutually appalling taste in clothing. George favours shirts of the neon-flashing variety, while Wanda’s white one-piece answers to Ted’s initial word-picture of the Phantom far better than the Phantom itself ever did: “A hideous beast that defies description!”

Wanda callously warns George that his, and her, paymasters are getting impatient, and warns him of the consequences should he disappoint them. She also tells him that Ethel has been blabbing to Grant.

Meanwhile, Ethel herself is busy proving that she sucks at spy-work even more than George: when King enters his lab, he finds the place a wreck, with glass items lying smashed on the floor, and the duplicated keys lying in the middle of the mess…although despite this, Ethel somehow managed to lock the door, since King has to go through his usual laborious unlocking process.


King does nothing more than return the duplicate keys in a pointed way, which still doesn’t clue Ethel in on the real danger; so she is unprepared – as are we – when George finally manages to hit something with that damned spear-gun of his. That he hits Ethel in the back from a clump of bushes to which she is side-on only sweetens the deal.

But George just wouldn’t be George if he didn’t drastically undermine any act of his that looked vaguely competent. It comes as little surprise when we learn George has left his fingerprints all over the fatal spear…

Before this, however, King is tagged as a suspect by Bill Grant, in company with the local sheriff—who, upon being asked by King, “Am I being charged with this horrible thing!?”, responds nonchalantly, “No, but it’s only a matter of time.”

However, the next morning, proof of the real killer’s identity arrives via the sheriff, who is even more cheerful as he announces George’s guilt: “Dumbest killing I ever saw! Left the spear-gun-in his car!” Yup, that’s George for you. It is also the sheriff – not, we note, either of the Government’s highly specialised investigators – who knows where George is to be found. A simple stake-out puts paid to George and Wanda and their appalling wardrobes.

Meanwhile, Ted is telling King that he’s been acquitted. Lois doesn’t understand the men-folks’ subsequent gloom. Naturally, Ted pats her hand and sends her away so that he can talk to her father alone. Ted shows King some scribbled notes, his, copied by Ethel, given to Grant—and King ’fesses up about everything…almost. “How did you activate it?” Ted demands, and King bridles. “That, Dr Stevens, is my knowledge, and mine alone!”

AKA the screenwriter’s escape clause.

“Fashion Police! Please come quietly, sir…”

Ted tries to convince King that he must destroy everything he has created, but King baulks…all of which begs the question, what the hell has King been trying to accomplish?? If he were trying to create a death-ray to sell to A Certain Unnamed Foreign Power, well, that would be one thing. As it is, his actions seem more than usually pointless, even for a mad scientist. Ted reminds King of the body-count, but King nevertheless demands an hour to, “Think about it.”

Conveniently enough, during that hour a tanker manages to wander across the beam of light – which is to say, it gets just as close to shore as our hard-working row-boat – and goes up in a fireball. This makes up King’s mind for him, and he prepares the deadliest of all possible retaliations: four sticks of dynamite and an alarm-clock. First, however, he does a decidedly half-assed rendition of the classic “trashing the lab” response, before admitting Andy the janitor and telling him that, “You may come in and clean up now.” Andy staggers back at the sight of King’s light-powered mutation, which he has also trashed. Bastard.

Ted, Lois and Grant converge at the lab, then head together for the beach, from where King has already launched himself in that inexhaustible row-boat. He dives down to somewhere near the light beam and plants his high-tech bomb, but is caught by the Phantom before he can get away. Intriguingly, his struggles indicate that he didn’t intend a suicide…but, needless to say, he gets one anyway. The bomb goes off, and scientist and creation both go up; as indeed does the activated deposit of submerged uranium. It’s a well-known scientific fact that radioactivity is destroyed by a simple explosion, rather than, say, being dispersed over an increasingly wide and dangerous area…

“He must have been carrying an ATOMIC GRENADE!”

On the beach, Lois breaks down in sobs and sinks into the waiting arms of Ted. Together, they deliver the traditional Scientist’s Epitaph:

Lois:  “I’m sure he meant to use this power to help humanity, not destroy it!”
Ted:  “I’m sure he did, Lois! – and he paid for his mistake. Nature has many secrets that man mustn’t disturb—and this was one of them!”

Aaaand roll credits.

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues ended up as the bottom half of a double-bill, below Roger Corman’s first science fiction film as director, The Day The World Ended; a fact that really tells us all we need to know about it. This was the package that Jim Nicholson first shopped around to various distributors, all of whom proved strangely reluctant to buy. Indeed, under normal circumstances, neither of these two films would have made it within a country mile of the top half of a cinema bill, and for a time it looked as if their producers’ strategy of insisting upon selling the two together was going to blow up in their faces.

However, a kindly fate took a hand in the fortunes of ARC, providing a deus ex machina in the shape of a newspaper strike in Detroit. Unable to advertise their upcoming productions in that city, a lucrative market, the major studios held off releasing them; local cinema owners, desperate for product – obviously – gave in to Nicholson and Arkoff’s demands and took their twin offerings.

To the astonishment of all concerned, the films were a rousing commercial success, so much so that exhibitors nationwide took note and followed the lead of their brothers in Detroit. So it was that by the closing of 1955, ARC was firmly in the black.

It had also changed its name to American International Pictures…


Footnote:  I really hope that row-boat’s agent got it a good deal:


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Want a second opinion of The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting and Braineater.


This review is part of the B-Masters’ tribute to American International Pictures.

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6 Responses to The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955)

  1. RogerBW says:

    “Tourist and beachcomber – absolutely not one of those beatnik fellows, as you can tell from my suit and impeccable grooming.”

    Umm… it’s a very small bay so there’s only one place to swim without touching the sides?

    Oh no! Not a Certain Unnamed Foreign Power! (Much as Doc Savage in 1941 was fighting agents of “a certain aggressive European country”.)


  2. GeniusLemur says:

    “Why King doesn’t just fire the pair of them is left as one of Life’s Little Mysteries.”
    Duh, because then George would clutch a spear gun under his arm and fail to open the locks on the professor’s door ON HIS OWN TIME.


  3. Kent says:

    Fully realizing that I’m putting more thought into this than anyone involved with the actual movie did, given that a “league” is about 5.556 km, the Marianas Trench is slightly under 11 km (so, less than two leagues) deep, and the circumference of the earth is roughly 40,075 km (or about 7,213 leagues), I have to wonder exactly where the “phantom” was coming from if it had to travel 10,000 leagues.


    • Alaric says:

      It’s the usual misunderstanding of the name of Verne’s book, of course. But you knew that.


      • Kent says:

        Undoubtedly, and expecting scientific accuracy (or any semblance thereof) from a 1950’s sci-fi movie (especially one put out by ARC) is entirely unrealistic. I was just letting my anal retentive side out for some air.


  4. KeithB says:

    Maybe all the non-linear time shifting was just presaging Nolan, like in Dunkirk.


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