The music of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS

When Jack Dietz and Mutual Films sold their low-budget Monster From Beneath The Sea to Warner Brothers, they changed the film’s title to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.  But that wasn’t the only thing they altered.   The original score, composed by Michel Michelet, also became a casualty when Warner Brothers acquired the film.  Warners wanted a “bigger” sound, and gave the assignment to David Buttolph.  The music was orchestrated by Maurice De Packh, and the score was conducted by Ray Heindorf at Warner Brothers on the first week of April, 1953.  The orchestra numbered about 50 players, which included 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, baritone sax, bass sax, Hammond organ, electric bass, and on a few cues, two pianos.  The combination of the heavy use of low brass and Buttolph’s jazz-influenced writing help give this score its unique, modern flavor.

Buttolph had just around a week to write the 36 minutes of original music, which was combined with about seven minutes of popular songs and a minute-and-a-half of Buttolph’s music tracked from earlier films.  (The plane montage as Nesbitt is flown to New York comes from the trailer of Chain Lightning, and the ballet music is from the first-rate 1950 Robert Wise soap opera, Three Secrets.)  Because of the incredibly tight deadline, Buttolph had to track some music from one scene in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms to another, and he was also forced to use his “beast” theme practically every time the dinosaur is seen.  While this repetition is the weakest aspect of the score, Buttolph was still able to offer a wide variety of musical material considering the extreme time constraints. 

Buttolph referred to this picture as one of his “chillers,” and comments scribbled on the scores reveal that either he or Maurice De Packh nicknamed the film “The Beastie” and “The Wee Beastie.”  Not much imagination was put into the naming of the cue titles, possibly because there was no time to think about such unimportant matters, with the result being that a dozen of them were titled “Monster.”

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