Thursday, August 2, 2012
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season 1
Those who remember this series as a kind of campy monster-of-the-week show might be surprised by the black and white episodes of the first season, most of which are reasonable and serious. Based on his movie of the same title, producer Irwin Allen put together this program with Richard Basehart in the Walter Pidgeon role of Admiral Harriman Nelson [inventor of the nuclear sub Seaview] and David Hedison cast as Captain Lee Crane, the part originally played by Robert Sterling. Both are perfect for their roles.
First season highlights include "The Fear Merchants," in which a fear gas is secretly tested on the crew of the Seaview; "Submarine Sunk Here," a harrowing episode wherein the sub is downed by old floating mines; "Mutiny," in which Nelson and Crane have tense disagreements while dealing with a huge collective jellyfish; "Doomsday," in which the Seaview is put on standby alert for a possible WW3; "The Exile," wherein Nelson is stranded on a life raft with a miserable "People's Republic" ex-premier [Ed Asner]; "The Condemned," in which an egotistical admiral (J. D. Cannon) and his put-upon assistant (Arthur Franz) take the Seaview down to crush depth by using a special atmosphere; and "The Invaders," in which Robert Duvall plays an ancient life form found in a capsule at the sea bottom. Two especially excellent episodes were "The Ghost of Moby Dick," in which a scientist seeks revenge against the most humongous whale that ever existed; and "Hail to the Chief," in which the president is taken aboard Seaview for brain surgery and the crew has to deal with more than one assassin. There were several other fine episodes as well. Notable guest stars included Hurd Hatfield, Mike Kellin, Viveca Lindfors, Carroll O'Connor Richard Carlson, Donald Harron, Torin Thatcher, Leslie Neilsen, and even George Sanders! In addition to Basehart and Hedison, cast regulars included Del Monroe as Kowalski, Robert Dowdell is Chip Morton, and Henry Kulky as Chief "Curley" Jones; all are fine.
As noted, the show was entirely reasonable [if "fantastic" at times], even when it dealt with monsters, with one notable exception. The episode "Turn Back the Clock" consists almost entirely of footage from Allen's production of The Lost World, which starred David Hedison, and has the crew of the Seaview arriving at a prehistoric world in the Arctic a la The Land Unknown. After this episode aired it was hard to take Nelson and Crane seriously when they seem incredulous about some weird creature or another when they'd already encountered living dinosaurs! This cost-cutting maneuver of Allen's was probably not advisable in the long run, but he was to use stock footage from The Lost World again in the future. "The Village of Guilt," which features a giant octopus, uses a couple of quick clips from Harryhausen's It Came from Beneath the Sea.
The episodes have all been beautifully remastered for the DVD set and look quite splendid. In High definition it's like you can reach out and touch the water. Not having seen this show in many years, I was very delighted with its quality. Paul Sawtell's majestic theme music, [first used in the motion picture] sets the right mood week after week. NOTE: The Volume 1 Season 1 DVD set also includes the pilot episode in color on the last disc.
Verdict: A very entertaining and well-done series. ***1/2.