Monday, July 16, 2012

Movie Monday: Around The World Under The Sea

This week's Movie Monday selection is the 1966 underwater sci-fi adventure Around The World Under The Sea!

As most of you who read this column know by now, I'm a sucker for A)any movie with a really cool poster (check) and B)any old movie that features heroic Men of Action using candy-colored sci-fi gadgets (double check). So let's put on our scuba suits and dive dive dive!
Around The World Under The Sea opens with this eye-opening quote (from actual astronaut M. Scott Carpenter) about the world we're about to enter. You think space is intimidating? Try the seven seas, bub!
Following a series of earthquakes that have struck the world, a crack team of scientists and biologists are assembled to go on a dangerous mission under the sea and plant a series of sensor devices that will work as an early warning system, potentially saving millions of lives.

The team, led by Dr. Doug Standish (Lloyd Bridges) inspects the ship they will be using, the ultra-high-tech sub The Hydronaut. Meanwhile, two other members of team, Drs. Boren (Gary Merrill) and Mosby (Brian Kelly), discuss who should also be part of the team. Realizing they have limited space, they recruit someone who is both a doctor and a marine biologist--Dr. M.E. Hanford (Shirley Eaton) who is--*gasp!*--a woman!

It's here that
Around The World Under The Sea starts wasting a lot of its time, with it's Mad Men-esque attitude about women. When we're first introduced to Hanford, her debut is preceded by a bunch of screaming secretaries, acting like cartoon characters when they see a guinea-pig running around:
Dr. Hanford crawls out from under a desk, having retrieved one of her guinea-pigs, and introduces herself to her erstwhile teammates. Then she goes back down to retrieve another one, and we see just how qualified she is for this mission, at least in the eyes of the filmmakers:
Two other members of the team, played by Man from U.N.C.L.E. star (and Sally Draper heartthrob) David Macallum and Marshall Thompson, are also brought aboard. After inspecting the ship, Standish does some team-building of his own: he goes to visit the elusive oddball Hank Stahl (Keenan Wynn), who is so disgusted with humanity he has decided to live at the bottom of the sea in his own underwater domicile:
Standish convinces Stahl to join the mission, and soon they all aboard The Hydronaut, headed for their first destination. Unfortunately, right at the point where the film (which has spent a considerable amount of its running time just assembling the crew) should be ratcheting up its tension, it goes slack--the installing of the first sensor goes fairly smoothly, and then we have scenes of the crew killing time, like playing a game of chess (which is magnetically attached to a nearby wall).

The one scene that has any sort of that Jules Verne-esque feel to it is when Stahl is nearly eaten (or whatever) by a giant moray eel, which then turns its attention towards the whole ship:
Even here though, the scene is shot in a kind of flat way; other than one or two close-ups of the eel (from the POV of the crew inside) we don't really get a sense of impending danger all that much.

More time is wasted with the problems some of the crew have with Dr. Hanford on board. Mosby seems to be in serious infatuation mode with her, even though Hanford is in a relationship with Dr. Hillyard, and was a former flame of MaCallum's Dr. Volker (whew!). At one point Volker, now trying to restart his relationship with Hanford, gets distracted and crashes The Hydronaut into a cliff. This is a crack team of brilliant professionals?

I have to admit, around the halfway mark of A
round The World Under The Sea I really lost interest in what was going on; the silly squabbling between the men over Hanford just got so ridiculous I kind of wished that Standish and Stahl would just drop them all off on an island somewhere and continue the mission on their own.

The film ends with The Hydronaut having to plant a sensor near an active volcano; as you might imagine it doesn't go smoothly. But I don't think I'll be shocking anyone by revealing that the crew makes it out, heads to the surface, ready to continue their mission in the inevitable(?) sequel.

Around The World Under The Sea makes a dubious companion to 1966's Destination Inner Space--it features a "crack" team of scientists and explorers on a mission under the sea, and then it all gets bogged down with retrograde sexual politics; bringing in a woman character just to treat her poorly. Both films seem to be saying: yes, women are qualified to be in these situations now, but wouldn't it be better for all concerned if they just stayed out of the way? That way men could go about their business of saving the world, dammit!

Maybe Hank Stahl was right.

Fun Fact: The director of the diving sequences was none other than the Creature From The Black Lagoon himself, Ricou Browning!

For Further Reading: If, for some reason, you want to learn more--a lot more--about Around The World and Under the Sea, check out this post, which is so long and detailed I think more thought was put into it than the script for the film itself.


Christopher Mills said...

Did you mean: Man From U.N.C.L.E. star, David McCallum?


rob! said...

Criminy! Yes I did. Bad Rob. Thanks for the catch Chris!

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