Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: July 12th, 1961 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Irwin Allen Actors: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Frankie Avalon, Michael Ansara, Regis Toomey, John Litel, Henry Daniell

 


 

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orth Pole tests of the Super-Sub “USOS Seaview” have just finished, proving that inventor Admiral Harriman Nelson’s (Walter Pidgeon) new atomic vessel, featuring a glass nose, is not the folly that penny-pinching congressman Llewellyn Parker (Howard McNear) predicted. Alongside trusted Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling), Nelson must entertain Vice-Admiral B.J. Crawford (John Litel), psychiatrist Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), and Parker, who have the final word on funding for continued research and missions aboard the Seaview. It’s an impressive “toy,” with the visitors given a comprehensive tour – including through the missile room, which boasts more firepower than all that was used in WWII.

Unlike writer/producer/director Irwin Allen’s later films, this one begins with a less serious, more romantic tone, established by Frankie Avalon’s rendition of the title song. And despite a few formalities from professional observers, it’s not long before Avalon (as Lieutenant Romano) is blaring on a trumpet while uncommonly flirty and shapely Lieutenant Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden) dances gayly. Fortunately, the festivities are broken up by the turbulence of boulders crashing down around the submarine. When they surface, the sky looks to be on fire. Thanks to some heavy meteor activity around the Van Allen belt of radiation, a ring of fire has encircled the globe, with the world reporting 135 degree temperatures, the polar ice caps rapidly melting, forest fires springing up everywhere, and all the top scientists gathering in New York to devise a solution for the planet’s survival.

Rather than staying with the action of recovering survivors or contending with natural disasters, the picture dwells on news reports, navigational charts, and sailors calculating figures not only for a speedy trip back to the States but also for the time remaining before the Earth is cremated. When the Seaview arrives in New York, viewers must sit through bureaucratic proceedings and international representatives’ hysterics as scientists argue over plans of action (amusingly, even when a majority of the politicians object to Nelson’s intentions, he asserts the U.S.’ superiority by pushing ahead with a scheme that could explode the planet). In these early moments, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” resembles a standard disaster movie, though devoid of the chaotic visuals and the panic-filled action of impending doom.

Despite a few heated arguments, a fistfight, a general sense of defeatism (perpetuated by religion-spewing civilian Miguel Alvarez [played by Michael Ansara]), and a potential mutiny, the film suffers from an absence of thrills or other sci-fi wonders. There is a giant sea creature for the ship to battle (as well as a large squid, which provides – nearly an hour in – something monstrous for divers to grapple with), along with threats of depressurization, drowning, and explosions. But true science-fiction components are practically missing altogether; it’s more of a moderate, procedural, cautionary tale (concerning man’s negative impact on nature), or even a war movie, than a futuristic adventure.

Superb underwater photography makes an appearance, as well as time-consuming obstacles unrelated to the world ending. And before the mission can be accomplished, a possible delusion-based murder-mystery initiates, further distancing this production from the realm of fantasy – and from the outlandishness of its peers. The ideas are nevertheless captivating, particularly when saboteurs are uncovered and Nelson’s proposal meets fanatical opposition, but the focus and the pacing are all over the place.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10