1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City

The last sci-fi theatrical release of 1970 ( for Americans) was MGM's Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (CNUC). Produced in the UK and released in parts of Europe in 1969, CNUC made it to American on October of '70. The cast featured some big name American actors, such as Robert Ryan (who played Nemo) and Chuck Conners (who played Senator Fraser). Much of the rest of the cast were British, except for Luciana Paluzzi (who played Mala).

Quick Plot Synopsis
A storm sinks a ship bound from America to England. As some of the nearly drowned sink into the depths, scuba divers pull six of them into an ornate submarine. Senator Fraser, Helena Beckett and her young son Phillip, the two Bath brothers and a man named Lomax. They eventually meet Captain Nemo, who says they can never return, but are being taken to his underwater city: Templemere. The Bath brothers, Barnaby and Swallow, two-bit hustlers, are fascinated that so much is made of gold. Lomax is overly claustrophobic and nervous. They are all given tours and shown the wonders of Nemo's utopia. Farming from the sea, machines that make air and fresh water, produce gold as a byproduct, and everyone is so very content. Joab, Nemo's first mate, is keen on Mala, but she is more keen on Fraser. Lomax finds out about a pressure release valve which he thinks will be his way of escape. His plan fails and he only manages to drown himself in a flooded room. The Bath boys find out that there is a second sub -- Nautilus II -- and tell Fraser. He then shows interest in Nemo's operations and is taught to pilot Nautilus. While doing so, the monster manta ray, Mobula, attacks. Fraser shows piloting skill and stabs Mobula with Nautilus' spiky ram. Fraser is the city hero, which makes Mala all the more moony eyed. Joab, very jealous, arranges for Fraser and Bath boys to escape in Nautilus II. Fraser asks Mala if she'd consider living anywhere else. No. (rats). Fraser asks Helena if she wants to go back. Not really, she's gotten keen on Nemo. So, the three men escape in Nautilus II, but alarms are sound. Nemo gives chase in Nautilus. Fraser calls for full power, but the engines have a flaw. Nautilus II begins to break up. The crew don scuba tanks. Barnaby, obsessed with his treasure, grabs some, but his mouthpiece breaks free and he drowns. Swallow and Fraser make it to the surface and are picked up by a passing schooner. No one believes their tale, but that's okay with them. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
CNUC has the usual appeal of sci-fi set in victorian opulence. There is a modest steampunk quality to the film.

Cold War Angle
This is minor, but still lurking in the details. Nemo and Fraser have extended discussions on whether mankind is too corrupt to entrust with Nemo's amazing infinite power (i.e. nuclear). Then too, there is the subtle Godzilla reference. The monster ray, Mobula, was made into a giant murderous monster because of an explosion (nuclear?) during the construction of Templemere. Nukes make monsters!

Prequel? Sequel? -- Or none of the above. Some viewers consider CNUC as sequel to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ('54), and a prequel to Columbia's Mysterious Island ('61). The thinking would be that Nemo doesn't die at the end of 20K, but goes into hiding and builds his underwater city. The story line in CNUC doesn't fit very well between those two, but with some continuity-forgiveness, it could be watched as the second part of a trilogy. Actually, the story in CNUC is more of a reworking of 20K but with Nemo's sub and loyal crew expanded into a utopian city full of loyal residents. The fact that Nemo and Templemere finish the film intact does suggest sequel potential for MGM.

Best Nemo? -- Some consider Robert Ryan to have been miscast (or misdirected) as Nemo. Some thought he was the best Nemo (at least he didn't die). James Mason played Nemo in Disney's 20,000 Leagues (54) Herbert Lom played Nemo in Mysterious Island (61). Robert Ryan plays Nemo in CNUC, of course. Jose Ferrer would play Nemo in the 1978 movie The Amazing Captain Nemo (or the Return Of… for the 3-part TV miniseries version). Which do YOU think was the best Nemo?

Snakes in Utopia -- 19th Century romantic notions imagined that if one could just provide a community's basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) that everyone would get along nicely. Templemere represents that. As long as their neo-god Nemo provided all they wanted, they were content and peaceful. But, there were snakes in Eden. The jealously of Joab showed how fallen man can derail utopia. Most utopias, whether they be economic or political or religious, seem to depend on all the inhabitants being of one mind. It only takes one, whose heart hankers off the prescribed path, to begin the ruin. Nemo thought he could maintain peace by providing all the stuff  his people could need. Desires are more difficult to control.

Comic Relief -- The actors who play Barnaby and Swallow Bath were well-known in the UK. Barnaby was played by Bill Fraser, who played Snudge in the long-running British comedy TV show, Bootsie and Snudge. Swallow was played by Kenneth Conner, who was in many of the Carry On… comedy films from the late 50s to the 80s.

Bottom line? CNUC is a moderately entertaining film with a heavy dose of victorian-era filigree in its sets. The scuba gear is only barely disused, evidence of a budget without as much filigree. The model work is reasonable, but secondary. The story is more of a drama in Verne-esque trappings. Not great, but worth watching.


Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, it would be nice if giving everyone what they needed made them get along.

Randall Landers said...

Robert Ryan was originally cast as Lazarus in Star Trek's "The Alternative Factor," and due to his tendency to overindulge in alcohol consumption, had to be replaced by Robert Brown (of Primus and Here Comes the Bride fame). His acting in this particular film often brings to mind this particular revelation, and one wonders if his problem led to such an...odd performance.

Chuck Connors is badly miscast; I really didn't care for the character as portrayed, and couldn't see what Nemo saw in him as a potential protege.

The two comedians were really distracting, and obviously added for comedic effect. Pity. It would've been a better story without them.

Nightowl said...

Yes, it -would- be nice, but all such utopias ignore the flawed (fallen) nature of mankind. Even if we get everything we NEED, there is still more that we WANT. And "wants" are notoriously impossible to satisfy.

Nightowl said...

I agree about the two comedians. Comic-Relief is a very tough thing to pull off well. I'm not all that convinced of its necessity. But, it seems to have been an unquestioned article of doctrine for screenplays.

Darci said...

Re: Prequel? Sequel?
Verne set 20000 Leagues in 1867 and 1868. His seguel, Mysterious Island, was set in 1865 to 1869. I'd guess that Underwater City should precede them both. IIRC Senator Fraser was on a diplomatic mission to the UK concerning the recently-declared Civil War, hence 1861.
Hope this helps!

Nightowl said...

Thanks for the info on Verne's story timeframes. Interesting. Some things still don't quite pan out, but that's okay. I doubt Verne was out to create a whole fictional universe (ala Star Wars) when he was writing his tales. I was thinking more about the screenplay stories as for which the studios were suggesting preceded the other.