20 Million Miles to Earth: A Classic Ray Harryhausen Monster in a Not So Classic Movie

20 Million Miles to Earth is a movie of its time. During the 1950s, especially in America, paranoia was in high demand and everybody was afraid of something. Whether that was the atomic bomb or the possibility of visitors from beyond the stars or the closer-to-home threat of reds under the bed, fear was a constant factor in day-to-day life, and film companies were more than eager to cash in.  You had giant lizards stomping on buildings, giant crabs ruining a perfectly good day out at the beach and little green men in giant spaceships kapowing and kersplatting anyone unlucky enough to get in their way.

It seemed that everyone and their Aunt Sally wanted to jump on the Monster bandwagon and, unfortunately, when you flood any market in such a way then there’s always more sh*t to sift through than a Donald Trump press conference. Luckily for me, I love that sort of thing. Crappy movies that is. Not Trump. He’s a whole different kind of crazy.

20 Million Miles to Earth is one of those films that looks to make some easy money in the midst of a monster scene, the likes of which we’d never see again. Based on an idea by the legendary Ray Harryhausen called The Giant Ymir, 20 Million Miles to Earth was a Columbia Pictures effort and was mainly shot in Rome. Why? I hear you ask. Because Ray Harryhausen wanted to go on holiday to Rome, that’s why, and when your name is Ray Harryhausen, you can pretty much get what the hell you want.

20 Million Miles to Earth was released in June of 1957 and, if truth be told, it isn’t a great film. It isn’t even a good one. Hell, there’s a case to be made that it’s barely passable, but Ray Harryhausen did the special effects and surely that’s all you need to know, right? What do you mean no, and don’t call me Shirley?  Fine, have it your way.

Pepe from 20 Million Miles to Earth
This is the face of true evil. F*ck you Pepe.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

20 Million Miles To Earth starts in “A Fishing Village In Sicily,” where the sky and the sea are a beautiful blue, the fields and forest a lush green, and the chalk cliffs as white as snow, which means that I’ve somehow managed to get hold of a color print of this film instead of the original black and white copy. The Italian Fishermen are going about their fisherman ways and being very Italian about it, mainly by putting the letter A at the beginning and ending of each a-word, when all of a sudden out of the sky, a Silver Spaceship crashes into Earth. These brave men, and not at all American film extras, no doubt hired for their impeccable ability to mimic any dialect they are handed, rush to the aid of the stricken vessel and find two survivors who they rescue in a flurry of long-shots, smoke machines, and backlots made up to look like a crashed cockpit. But are the two survivors the only thing that returned from their fateful journey?

I could carry on here and tell you about the rest of the plot of 20 Million Miles to Earth, and how it all stems from a trip to Venus, or I could tell you about the burgeoning relationship between heroic Colonel Bob Calder (William Hopper) and feisty-but-it-was-the-50’s-so-she’s-gonna-fall-in-love-with-him-any-sodding-way Marisa Leonardo (Joan Taylor). Or maybe how it’s actually all the fault of the little boy called Pepe (Bart Bradley) who finds a strange container and flogs it so he can buy a bloody cowboy hat and pretend he’s Howdy Doody or whatever crap American cowboy cinema has rotted his mind—but I won’t, as that might spoil the plot of a 65-year-old movie for you.

What you really want to know is about the Ray Harryhausen-created and animated creature, The Ymir.

The Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth
“Come to Earth,” they said “Meet the friendly natives,” they said.

From the first moment he crawls out of his green ooze until his final death throws within the Rome Colosseum, The Ymir is one of Ray Harryhausen’s more likable creatures. It ticks all the right monster boxes: stomping on things when it should, screeching like a banshee in a blender, and scaring the hell out of anyone it runs into but at the same time. I just couldn’t help but feel sorry for the big lug. After all, it was just minding its own business being a Ymir and doing Ymir things (whatever they might be) when the next thing it knows it’s 20 Million Miles Away From Venus (which is what they should’ve called the film) being chased by a hand full of Americans trying to subdue it with electrified nets and a whole host of pissed off Italians trying to barbecue its Ymir ass with flamethrowers.

This left me pitying it, which is something that Ray Harryhausen always seemed to be able to do with his creatures whenever he felt the need to and something that we’ve always thought that he never truly got enough credit for, being able to fill his creations with a soul, for want of a better word. And with The Ymir, 20 Million Miles to Earth has a very relatable beast. I mean, as relatable as any beast can be that eats people, I suppose. All philosophical musings aside, you’re going to want to see a rumble, and have I got a doozy for you as The Ymir tangles with an Elephant after waking up in a zoo (man, we’ve all been there, amirite?) It’s what Good Ol’ JR would call a slobber knocker that ends with The Ymir winning, after burying its teeth into the Elephant’s neck. Now, I’m not sure if that counts as a pinfall or a submission, but the cold, hard fact is that Dumbo ain’t getting up.

The rest of 20 Million Miles To Earth is wrapped up pretty quickly after this, with Ymir being dispatched by the heroic Colonel Bob, his bazooka, and his massive fucking army (F*ck you, Colonel Bob! This is all your fault! You and that d*ck kid Pepe!) and we are left with just one question: is 20 Million Miles to Earth actually any good?

Well, as I stated at the start of it—no, not really. The story is no great shakes, being a standard monster goes loco after being dragged out of its natural habitat type thing, and the acting is at its best laughable and at its worst offensive stereotypes, but beyond that? Ray Harryhausen did the Special Effects on 20 Million Miles to Earth and surely that’s all you need to know, right?

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Written by Neil Gray

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