Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


VOYAGE OF THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961). Director: Irwin Allen.

This was one of Twentieth Century-Fox's big CinemaScope "thrill"pictures that all the kids had to see. The amazing thing is how entertaining the darn thing is. Meteors have set the Van Allen belt aflame and it looks like the world could be doomed. Many scientists feel that the fire will simply burn itself out, but Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is convinced that the only way to save Earth is to fire a missile into the fiery belt about a day before it's predicted that the flames will expire. So Nelson sets sail with his fancy nuclear sub the Seaview and heads for the Marianas, where the missile can be fired. But he has to contend with a disgruntled crew, saboteurs, waters full of mines, a bad-tempered squid, a giant octopus, a nutty religious fanatic, and mutineers before its over. The movie works up a considerable amount of suspense as Nelson makes his mad dash to save the planet. The special effects work is uneven but generally credible. There's a terrific shot of Manhattan with a sky full of flames overhead. The squid is phony-looking and has limited movement, but the octopus is a better actor. Robert Sterling (as Captain Lee Crane) Barbara Eden, Henry Daniell, Joan Fontaine. Michael Ansara, and the inimitable Peter Lorre are all fine in supporting roles. Sterling is given a good speech in which he tells off Ansara for preaching fatalism -- accepting the inevitable -- to the sailors when he needs them to be at peak strength to pull off the impossible. Best scene: Joan Fontaine falls into the shark pool! Good script, fast pace, and effective musical score help enormously. Although this was clearly inspired by Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it's actually more entertaining.

Verdict: More fun than it has any right to be. ***.


Neil A Russell said...

From the silly science to the implausible storyline, this still is one of the most entertaining movies of all time.

There's enough plot holes to drive a submarine through and yet it doesn't seem to matter.

One of the more glaring instances is the supposed secrecy the admiral is operating under to keep the crew in the dark about where they are going and what they are going to do. He is also presumably keeping it a secret from the rest of the world so the UN won't send attack subs after him.
However when the Seaview went to New York, Admiral Nelson went on tv to explain not only his entire plan, but gave the coordinates down to the minute where he was going to shoot the missile.
Plus, a big deal is made of seeing everyone aboard Seaview watching the admiral's presentation.

Doesn't matter, I still love it.

I'd say the thing that keeps the pace going is the amazingly tight editing. There's scarcely a wasted frame in the movie once you get past the silly Frankie Avalon song.

It really only bogs down when the divers are going out to mix it up with the rubber squid, but in the context of the times, scuba diving was considered high excitement, so that's forgivable too.

One of the hallmarks of an Irwin Allen movie is the pacing of the action with no slowups for backstory or character development. I've read this in his movies described as making for one dimensional characters, but I would say it has to do with good casting.
As soon as you see a character in one of Irwin's movies you know pretty much everything you need to know about them and what they are up to.
Josh Olson recently made mention of the importance of casting while talking about a movie trailer at the "Trailers from Hell" site and I'm glad to see some of the Hollywood folk still think that way.

William said...

Great analysis of this movie, Neil! The inconsiustencies are funny but they didn't matter to the kids who went to see this in droves. The boys inside of us still dig this picture!

download movies said...

I am not regular follower of your blog.I recently visited some of your post.I didn't get clear idea of the story of this film so if possible then please post trailer of the movie.

Crabby and Felix, too. said...

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is the greatest movie -- for imaginative minds and people who love to see action in a wide-screen color drenched movie. The new Blu-ray dvd of this film is quite good. The stars shine, as indicated in the previous comments, yet the super star in the super submarine Seaview. This was a very advanced design for it's time. Even today it creates an attractive and dynamic presence..(later in the television series, it spawned an equally impressive Flying Sub--that was originally designed upside-down! that's another story). Buy your tickets, and enjoy your Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea! Irwin Allen (and Sheila) you created am indelible stamp on Filmdom.

William said...

You are right about the Seaview -- this magnificent submarine certainly should have gotten a mention in my original post. Its wonderful design adds immeasurably to the movie's classy look and the excitement of the story. And you're right that the Seaview is still impressive-looking today. I also thought the Flying Sub -- which got destroyed more than once in the TV series -- was pretty neat!

Many thanks for your comments! I think it's time to look at this movie again and to get out by box set of the series as well!