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I Can’t Phantom It

I believe I mentioned watching a cheesy movie last weekend while I was suffering from a sinus problem. I was too fuzzy-headed to pay even my usual desultory attention to it, but I think I can come up with a paragraph or two.

Phantom from 10,000 Fathoms (1956) starts right out by showing you the monster, which looks a little like a low-rent Creature of the Black Lagoon. I don’t particularly mind low rent; it adds to the cheese quotient. Ah, but here’s the point: the title says “phantom” but, to me, that’s a monster. Perhaps the writers considered a phantom a kind of a monster. Or maybe they just like alliteration as much as I do. No matter.

A lone fisherman in a boat apparently does not see the monster, although we can look down into the water and see it perfectly well. I suppose it’s a little petty to carp about a thing like that in a movie like this. After all, we WANT to see the monster, and the writers of the movie wanted the fisherman to NOT see it. Call it dramatic license. After dispatching the poor fisherman, the monster disappears for what seems like a long time (ooh, could that be why they call it a phantom?).

I found the plot a little hard to follow. Nobody is what they seem, except maybe the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter (all your better mad scientists have one). Well, I guess he’s not really a mad scientist. He is an oceanographer. But he is working on something he is being awfully secretive about. His assistant, his secretary and his janitor are all trying to find out what it is.

The assistant is the most sinister of the bunch. He keeps sneaking around carrying a harpoon gun. I wasn’t clear on what exactly he does as an assistant, since it seems he’s not privy to the doctor’s actual work. Then again, I was not clear on a lot during this movie, most notably my sinuses (for once I have an excuse other than my usual “just not paying attention”).

I didn’t mind the assistant being sneaky; at least his motives were made clear later. I’m still puzzling over what the main guy is even doing there. He shows up when this federal (I think) guy is investigating the sailor we saw get whacked in the first scene. He says his name is Ted Baxter (did you all just flash on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? I did). We later find out he’s really Ted Stevens, a prominent oceanographer who wrote a book on which his picture is prominently displayed. Didn’t he think the guy he is going to see — the mad scientist/oceanographer — might possibly have a copy of his book? Perhaps modesty overcame him.

I got a little chuckle thinking that Ted’s fake name sounded more real than his real name. I read somewhere that when people come up with aliases, they often use their own first name for a last name. For example, in Tootsie, Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels. It would not have surprised me to find out that Ted Stevens’ real name was Steven Tedford. But I digress.

As I was saying, I never did find out why Ted was masquerading as Ted Knight, but in any case, both Federal Guy and Mad Oceanographer find him out quite soon and with very little difficulty.

Every so often the Phantom Monster shows up again. We find out what Sneaky Assistant is up to, we watch Mad Oceanographer at work, and of course Ted romances Beautiful Daughter. I never really figured out the whole plot (blame my sinus infection), but I think it boiled down to the beware-of-science-there-are-things-we-aren’t-supposed-to-know paranoia that became so popular at the dawn of the atomic age.

I will have to watch this silly movie again when my head is less fuzzy.