Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961 - Dir. Irwin Allen)

When I decided to put Joan Fontaine into the FA Cup of Actors I was expecting to randomly generate a quality black and white offering along the lines of Rebecca or Letter From an Unknown Woman. But no, what turns up but a slice of action from the disputed master of disaster, Irwin Allen.

Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) takes his new nuclear sub for a test run when, surprise, surprise, the Van Allen radiation belt gets set on fire, causing the Earth to heat up in an alarming fashion. He comes up with a plan to solve this minor problem and in true American style it involves blowing stuff up with missiles. In his quest he is backed up by Captain Crane (Robert Sterling) and Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine) who is a guest on the sub, investigating what happens to people's mental health under severe pressure.

Seeing as though I only watched this for Joan Fontaine, it's a bit disappointing where she's concerned. Despite being the film's leading lady she doesn't get a close up for the first half hour. Saying that, there's not much to get a close up of. She spends the whole film looking like a local dignitary opening a new museum of which they have zero knowledge or interest. To say that she is distant is an understatement. 

The film creates a suitably under water atmosphere due to the sets and the miniatures. It shows the magic of film when some dubious model work and shaking the camera around can create the sense of a crew working under the sea. Saying that there is a shocking scene where an octopus attacks a few members of the crew who are out in their diving gear. They basically roll themselves up in its tentacles and look a bit scared. The editing is partly to blame as it lingers for an age on a useless long shot. When it cuts quickly between close up shots of the action, things improve immeasurably and it actually looks fairly convincing.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea plods along at an okay pace, throwing new challenges at the crew: a saboteur, other subs trying to scupper their plans, and the sight of Barbara Eden dancing in a slightly deranged fashion. But if you want to watch a film about a fiery end to the world give the superior The Day the Earth Caught Fire a go instead. A disappointing entry for Joan Fontaine, but will Barbara Crampton be able to capitalise on her defensive slip ups and power through to the next round. Find out soon...

If you like this you could also try:
The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure.

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