Thursday, June 04, 2020


"We know less about the deep oceans than we know about the surface of the moon!"
There's never any question of getting the bends in the fun and oceanic quasi-sci-fi adventure film Around the World Under the Sea. In fact it's the one element that seems the most unscientific about this charmingly odd duck of a movie, produced by the ever-adventurous Ivan Tors and ably achieving just what it wants to do, i.e. pleasurably evoking the previous nine or so years of ocean-related TV adventure, Irwin Allen sci-fi films, and Jacques Cousteau documentaries. I say that as someone totally fine with the uncommented on presence of a macro-scoped moray eel as the only requisite giant sea monster, haphazardly bumping into the mini-sub like a kid in his bathtub. These big undersea monsters are what kept us kids watching Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea reruns, which were otherwise dishwater dull, so you know I mean it when I lament that no giant squid or octopus appear this time-- but we do see them swimming around in normal size form. And there's a deep-breathing Shirley Eaton as a consolation, steaming up the mini-sub with her deep chakral breathing. 

Lloyd Bridges (from TV's Sea Hunt) co-stars with Brian Kelly (from TV's Flipper) as two manly divers on a mission to assemble a team of the leading oceanographers, tech gurus, oxygen mixers (Shirley Eaton), and undersea miners (dull as dishwater William Thompson) to travel the oceans deep and plant seismographic detection devices around the 'ring of fire' and other places, to work as an early detection device for tidal waves. Their experimental yellow submarine, the "Hydronaut," can "circle the globe on one cartridge of nuclear fuel!" Wow! As Harry Sukman conducts the breathless, whirling orchestra score (available on LP), it's time to get this ship sunk and sailing. Are you down for the trip? Or would you rather slog through another week of CNN watching the world above you burn? 

But first, the two manly men must recruit the crew. And there are rescues galore -- the best one being early on when Bridges dives down to help his sinking buddy with no oxygen tank, and swims 100 feet or so down -doing no real good except to bang on the top of the window and show off that Jeff's dad's still got it. People also run out of air or get overheated and need to be heroically rescued. And at one point the steam heat of Eaton almost crashes the sub as McCallum is busy trying to woo her and not paying attention to the controls. The Hydronaut's wizard at communications and computers, McCallum keeps his accent and hair-cut from Man From UNCLE, so you won't get confused.

Keenan Wynn co-stars as one of the breathing mixers. And I am fascinated by his bachelor pod under the sea (he lives in a giant glass-covered NYC studio apartment-sized diving bell several thousand feet down). I have had dreams about just such a place only with a VHS player and TV. Instead, I think I saw an LP player and a nice stack of records, and there's an ongoing chess game conducted via shortwave with another underwater researcher.  Lloyd Bridges dives down there and tries to convince Wynn of all the lives he'll save by helping install a chain of underwater earthquake detectors. "I don't care - let 'em all go." Wynn fires back. "I got it made down here! I got my research, my books, my music!" 

Bridges and Kelly, reminding us of a time when men looked like men. 

To provide evidence, he shows a shark hatching from its egg: "He's trying to free himself from his nourishing egg yolk! He wants to be born!" The analog is clear. Wynn doesn't want to be born, preferring to stay in his nourishing egg under the sea.  I relate to his churlish disposition; it doesn't seem quite fair to drop in and guilt trip him like some crafty Greenpeace canvasser.  So he's going to leave all his lab animals to just die in his undersea dome because some scientist wants to save Asia? To prove Wynn's misanthropy is just a lazy dodge however, Bridges leaves the pod without the right oxygen mix to get back to the surface alive, banking on his old pal coming to the rescue. Rescue time! 

Another of my favorite crew members is, of course, Eaton. She has that wry knowing look--both haughty and turned-on--dismissive of your interest in her yet intrigued, that made her a perfect Bond girl. Steaming up the cramped Hydronaut, throwing the alpha male young buck Kelly into a state of mating season heat, and vexing McCallum's Metalunan forehead. (Meanwhile dull as dishwater Marshall Thompson occasionally shows up and puts his arm around her, presuming she'd marry him in a minute if he asked - inferring they had an affair when she was somewhat younger and he wouldn't marry her). Now, I'm no fan of McCallum (he's like a compact Klaus Kinski without the froth) but I like the way the he and Keenan begin their ongoing chess game (magnetically attached to the side of the sub so as not to take up space) without a single word and--weird or not--he's a better option for Eaton than square apple pie face Thompson, who'd be more believable as her father, even in the 60s. (though he's only 12 years her senior). 

Luckily, providing handsome manly gruffness as the guy who gets Eaton into whatever bed there is onboard, Kelly beats them all by deliberately not trying. He's too gruff and refuses to be distracted!

He has a point. Once they're all submerged, Eaton's pheromones ooze off of her into the mix of sweat and salt water steam beading on the Hyrdonaut's inner hull. I think that what makes her allure so unique is her rather harsh face --she's not afraid to keep those jet black roots and big black eyebrows over her wide, cunning eyes. As she showed in the The Million Eyes of Sumuru--those eyes can convey ravenous ferocity very well, especially with the sharp contrast of her blonde hair and jet black eyebrows; that devouring smile, those gnashing teeth! She's from a brand of mid-60s Bond girl (like Honor Blackman) who ear black eyeliner so thick they stand out and seem to gaze right at you from a mile away or after several generations of VHS duping.  "You're a lot on a man's blood pressure," admits Bridges. But he also notes she's excellent at her job and the men are going to have to get used to women like her being around, i.e. it's not her fault if she's radiating enough sexual heat to stun a Brahman bull, she's the leading expert in her field and we regularly see her proving it, so suck it up, boys! There are a few shots of her bringing orange juices to the men on a tray, as if the filmmakers felt the need to satisfy some archaic gender typing, but we also see her injecting the men with chemicals that will help them absorb more oxygen from the limited air, and keeping an eye on her guinea pigs for signs of changing in the breathing. She's a great one for oxygen and man does she ever know how to breathe.

The climax involving a last minute extra sensor right at the foot of an underwater volcanic eruption includes lots of great, albeit unconvincing, miniatures and colors as the bright orange light of the magma creates deep blue dark shadows on the sub and its interiors, evoking Suspiria and early two-strip color films like Dr. X and Mystery of the Wax Museum. The Hydronaut falters, winds up balanced on the lip of a volcano, then sliding vertically so that they're all trying to work while literally falling on top of each other, with the deep volcanic stock footage and model work casting a cool contrasting blue and orange lattice of shadows as the colors filter through the dark ocean water.

 It's not for everyone, and I'm no specific fan of underwater TV shows from the 60s, but I have warmed up to movies where the sea monster is a normal-sized predator in an aquarium battling a tiny model. And there's something downright Hawksian about these professionals all working together and the slow burn romance bathed in steam with the girl being one of the group and as capable as the men,

Truth be told, I'm not even sure why I like this movie otherwise. Its title seems designed to weld Around the World in 80 Days to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the subliminal collective consciousness, and it sure is derivative of a lot of different TV and movies like Fantastic Voyage as well. But that's all okay. One amazing element is just how little the film seems to care about the usual oceanography documentary stuff. We see the Great Barrier Reefs and so forth but only in passing. Rather than the usual endless antics, the one dolphin we see is one programmed to attach magnetic mines to ships. Clearly most of this was filmed on the dry dock or with miniatures in big tanks, but I love that. In CGI or life-size 'reality', with endless digressions on the wonders of aquatic life, it would be a snooze (or more of a snooze than it already is). Instead, it has Hawks-ian group bonding, sexual steam, a booming score, nice lighting, a model volcano, and a giant eel. And in these trying times, that's enough. 

Regardless of whether you think, like Wynn's salty dog, that we should "let 'em all go" or be like Kelly and Nolan and "want to be born," there's something deeply calming to the male mind in imagining living far under the sea, away from the dizzy situations back on land. I know a lot of harried dads that would love this movie with a few cocktails after their nagging wives go off to bed. Submarine movies work a special kind of magic for us air-conditioning-dependent summertime older males, and provide the ultimate metaphor for late-night viewing itself--that special privatized sphere of buzzed insomniacs wherein the lack of prying eyes (everyone else is asleep) frees you to unfurl all your hidden tentacles, wrap them around your hydronaut, and sink deep into the narcotic abyss. 

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