Directed by James Hill
Produced by Bertram Oster and Steven Pallos
Written by Pip Baker, Jane Baker and R. Wright Campbell
If you’ve been reading my movie reviews here (and if you haven’t, why not?) then you know about my love for Turner Classic Movies. I’ve gone whole weekends just watching that channel because they throw on so many good old movies and even a fewer new ones that I just watch movie after movie. They’ll run a marathon of ‘Thin Man’ movies shown in order on William Powell’s birthday or have an entire day of classic science fiction films or a whole night of classic film noir. Recently they ran a block of films concerning submarine movies and I watched ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’, one of my all-time favorite films (the review’s here somewhere) and after that was over, I checked out CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY since I’m a huge Jules Verne fan and I like the character of Captain Nemo tremendously. I’d never seen this movie before and while it wasn’t what I expected, it was an entertaining way to kill a couple of hours. Even though the cheesiness of the special effects and the thin story gives the impression this was made as kid’s flick, I enjoyed watching it and didn’t feel my time was wasted. It would make an entertaining Captain Nemo triple feature along with Disney’s classic ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ and ‘The Mysterious Island’.
The movie starts with a sailing ship wrecked in a horrifying storm at sea and the passengers are forced to abandon ship. It looks as if they’ll surely all drown but men wearing strange fish-motif diving outfits rescue them. They’re from The Nautilus, the fantastically futuristic super sub designed and built by Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan) who just happened to be passing by. Captain Nemo has allowed the world to think he’s dead and has been laying low al this time. Even though he’s got no use for the surface world and the foibles of mankind he couldn’t just leave the people for dead and takes them aboard The Nautilus. Among the survivors is Senator Robert Fraser (Chuck Connors) Helena Beckett (Nanette Newman) and her ten-year old son Adam (Ian Ramsey) the scheming con-men brothers Barnaby Bath (Bill Fraser) and Swallow Bath (Kenneth Conner) and Lomax (Allan Cuthbertson) who are taken to Templemere, an incredible domed underwater city where Nemo lives with a sizeable population of people who have abandoned their lives on the surface for the idyllic paradise Nemo has created for himself.
Senator Fraser and the others are naturally grateful for being rescued but they’re not so grateful when Nemo tells them that they can never return to the surface, as he doesn’t trust them to not tell about Templemere. Not that I can see what the problem would be. None of them would be able to find their way back to the underwater city since Nemo’s the only one in the world who’s got a submarine, right? But then again, we wouldn’t have much of a movie if logic was applied, now would we?
Templemere is a wonderful community where nobody works and the populace spends their time lounging around eating biscuits and drinking tea with much laughter and good fellowship. And as an added bonus, there’s even a gold machine that extracts the precious substance from the seawater as a by-product of recycling air. This immediately catches the attention of the Bath brothers who immediately start planning how to escape back to the surface with the machine. The plan involves stealing The Nautilus II, an even larger and more powerful version of the original. Senator Fraser throws in with the Bath brothers not to steal the gold machine but he’s urgently needed back on the surface to complete a diplomatic mission to a Europe on the verge of war. Fraser’s somewhat conflicted because as he spends more and more time with Nemo he comes to like and respect the man and they grow to be friends. So much so that Nemo offers Fraser a job as his right-hand man. Helena also finds herself liking Nemo quite a lot herself and she starts to seriously contemplate maybe staying in Templemere. The only survivor who isn’t conflicted is Lomax who is seriously claustrophobic and makes repeated attempts to try and escape and one of those attempts almost destroys the city and leads to his horrifying death.
First off, let me tell you that this isn’t a high-octane action movie. There is a scene where The Nautilus does battle with a giant manta ray that might have been truly exciting if the special effects guys hadn’t skimped on the budget and the scene where Lomax attempts to escape is probably the most thrilling part of the movie. Lomax takes over the control room and screws around with the internal pressure causing water to flood the underwater city. In order to save the city, Nemo orders the control room sealed with Lomax inside and the scene where he drowns is pretty grisly stuff for a kid’s movie (but then again, kids back in 1969 ate that kinda stuff up) The ending is a chase between Fraser and the Bath brothers in Nautilus II and Nemo in The Nautilus that ends in a disappointing manner. Most of the movie is Nemo showing off his underwater city to the survivors and outlying his plans to create even more underwater cities while we see the growing friendship between Nemo and Fraser and the developing romance between Nemo and Helena. The scheming of the Bath brothers is amusing and the scene where they’re taken to the city garbage dump and find that everything there is made of gold is a pretty funny one as the two of them look like they’re having orgasms while contemplating what they’re going to buy once they get all that gold back to the surface.
The performances are nothing to rave about. Robert Ryan plays Captain Nemo well, I thought. His Nemo is more of a super-inventor/well-meaning despot than the out-and-out terrorist of the Verne book and he comes across more as a kindler, gentler version of a James Bond supervillain than anything else. He’s nowhere near the Captain Nemo played by James Mason in ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ or the superbly kickass Captain Nemo played by Naseeruddin Shah in ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ but he brings a really cold-blooded edge to the character. I liked how one minute he could change between being a genteel host and then turn into a real bastard, especially when he locks Lomax in the control room and callously watches through a window as he drowns. Chuck Connors is a dependable actor and he’s pretty good showing the conflict of Fraser who starts out despising Nemo for his attitudes toward the surface world and ends up almost surprised by the fact he’s grown to like and respect him.
So should you see CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY? Well, the special effects are obviously dated and the story isn’t the best but if you’re in the mood it makes for an entertaining time waster. If your cable/satellite provider carries Turner Classic Movies I say give it a viewing the next time it’s aired. The sets and costumes are beautiful and sometimes it can be fun to sit back and enjoy an old-fashioned sci-fi flick like this one. It’s pleasant, enjoyable and if you approach it in the right spirit, I think you might enjoy it.