Directed By: Irwin Allen
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden
Tag line: "Race from outer space to seven miles below the sea... with amazing aquanauts of the deep!"
Trivia: The theme song was sung by Frankie Avalon, who also appeared in the film
After making a splash in the science fiction genre with his remake of The Lost World, not to mention such TV series as The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space, filmmaker Irwin Allen next tried his luck at disaster movies, producing ‘70s classics like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a 1961 film he directed starring Walter Pidgeon and Peter Lorre, proved a nice combination of the two, telling the story of a state-of-the-art submarine that may be mankind’s only hope for survival.
While conducting a series of underwater tests at the North Pole, the brand new U.S. Submarine Seaview, designed by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Pidgeon), is struck by large chunks of ice, which have somehow broken free from the glaciers above. When the sub surfaces to investigate, both Nelson and the Seaview’s Captain, Lee Crane (Robert Sterling), make a startling discovery: the earth’s atmosphere is on fire! Ordered back to New York to discuss possible solutions to this crisis, Admiral Nelson and his good friend, Commander Lucius Emery (Lorre), present a plan to the U.N. that they believe will save the planet, one that involves launching an atomic missile directly into the atmosphere (Nelson believes the blast will be powerful enough to extinguish the flames). When his plan is rejected, Nelson, still convinced it’s the right course of action, hops aboard the Seaview and sets sail for the South Pacific (which, according to his calculations, is where the missile must be fired from to have the desired effect). With the rest of the U.S. Navy ordered to stop the Seaview at all costs, some members of the sub’s crew, spurred on by visiting psychologist Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), begin to wonder if the Admiral has taken leave of his senses, and fear that his plan, meant to save the world, will destroy it instead.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea does have its problems. For one, the science behind it all is sketchy at best (when told that the atmosphere is on fire, Lorre’s Commander Emery says “theoretically, it’s possible”, as if he were trying to convince the audience that the premise isn’t as ridiculous as it seems). In addition, the film’s attempt to interject some tension into the proceedings (i.e. – is Admiral Nelson losing his mind?) falls short of the mark (mostly because his actions never seem all that extreme). These issues aside, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is a thrilling motion picture, with impressive special effects (the sub looks pretty slick gliding underwater) and a number of exciting sequences (following a near-disastrous run-in with a mine field, the crew of the Seaview face off against a giant squid).
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea isn’t a movie that will challenge your intellect, but it does offer viewers one hell of an exhilarating ride.