The photography is quite lush and appealing, but the thrills that accompany it are rather tame and predictable in John Sturges’ Underwater!
The Production: 2.5/5
The photography is quite lush and appealing, but the thrills that accompany it are rather tame and predictable in John Sturges’ Underwater! Howard Hughes avails himself of another opportunity to display his long-time protégé Jane Russell in tight-fitting garments and various displays of undress (after his last attempt in 3D with The French Line found a very receptive public), and while her physical attributes are commendable, she’s merely window dressing to the real story of divers on the trail of a Spanish galleon loaded with gold.
Along with his aging partner Dominic Quesada (Gilbert Roland) and Johnny’s lovely wife Theresa (Jane Russell), intrepid treasure hunter Johnny Gray (Richard Egan) embarks on a quest for sunken treasure from a 17th century Spanish galleon somewhere in the Caribbean. Outfitted with advanced scuba gear garnered by bartering his own boat for $4,800, Johnny and his team struggle to pinpoint the location of the rumored shipwreck loaded down with priceless antiques, and things aren’t made any easier by the presence of a group of money-hungry shark chasers who take a sudden interest in their expedition. The race is on to find the rumored gold before the deteriorating ship, sharks, and pirates make their underwater expedition a fruitless one.
Based on the story “The Big Rainbow” by Robert B. Bailey and Hugh King, the screenplay was written by Walter Newman, but he and director John Sturges find it hard to pump much life into the proceedings. All of the problems and crises (sharks circling, Dominic developing “the bends,” the wreck of a galleon perched precariously on an undersea ledge ready to topple into several hundred fathoms of deeper, unattainable water at any minute) are telegraphed far too broadly to develop any real suspense (it also doesn’t help that the movie is narrated by Richard Egan’s Johnny Gray after the fact, so we can assume things are going to turn out all right), and while the cinematography is often gorgeous, the artists find it difficult to blend real location work above and below the water with obvious shots in the studio tank. It’s amazing that John Sturges directed this tepid adventure and followed it with a masterpiece of suspense and thrills Bad Day at Black Rock (earning an Oscar nomination in the process) making it ever so clear the necessity for a good story and script. Things come to a head when the shark hunters turn pirates and attempt to take over the gold which has already been found. The ensuing confrontation gives the film its only few minutes of genuine thrills, but those thrills are made eye-rollingly awful later on when the plot demands they reassert their threat on our heroes. It’s so unbelievable and irritating that even the film’s lapses up to this point seem like triumphs in comparison.
Though she’s given top billing, Jane Russell offers mostly a decorative function to the movie. Arrayed in a series of figure hugging peasant blouses, halter tops, and one and two-piece swimwear and utilizing one of the weakest Spanish accents of recent memory, the actress is definitely not the focus of the action. That falls to Richard Egan and Gilbert Roland, both men in prime shape (Roland in particular was likely not in as good a shape during his Latin lover days of the 1920s and 1930s as he is here) for the underwater sequences in the movie. As he had been doing for decades, Joseph Calleia provides a prime villain as Rico Herrera, all sweet smiles and false concern as the thieving hunter and pirate, abetted by his two henchmen played by Eugene Iglesias and Ric Roman. Robert Keith is on hand as a seafaring priest Father Cannon ready to bless the expedition and help out on deck. Lori Nelson is completely wasted as the friend of Roland’s Dominic who loans the undersea explorers her boat for their adventures.
3D Rating: NA
The film was the first RKO production in Superscope, and the transfer mirrors its original 2:1 aspect ratio in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The picture quality is pristine with luscious color, outstanding contrast, and sharpness that is spot-on. There are no problems with age-related scratches or dirt. The movie has been divided into 30 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers excellent fidelity throughout. While you may eventually tire of the constant repetitions of the song “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” which punctuate the rest of the score by Roy Webb, the dialogue, music, and sound effects have all been skillfully blended together. And you’ll be impressed with the force of an explosion that is set off midway through the film.
Special Features: 0/5
There are no bonus features on the disc though the liner notes imply a trailer is present.
A mediocre romantic adventure yarn with beautiful cinematography but a lackluster story, John Sturges’ Underwater! will likely only please fans of the stars or the director. Others will find more solid work from all of the principals in other titles in their respective filmographies.