Tuesday, September 18, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

I follow up (purely by coincidence) a review of Disney's most famous super-submarine movie with Irwin Allen's own attempt at that subgenre, which was popular enough to lead to a 1964-68 teleseries of the same name.  Surprisingly, though most Irwin Allen movies are noteworthy for flat characterization and rambling plotlines, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA is stronger in both departments.

VOYAGE was Allen's third venture into the domain of metaphenomenal cinema, following the bizarre fantasy THE STORY OF MANKIND and the tepid adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD.  Allen would later become something of an "enfant terrible" in the world of televised SF, ranging from the above-mentioned VOYAGE series to THE TIME TUNNEL, LOST IN SPACE, and LAND OF THE GIANTS.  Most of his movies and teleseries episodes tended to follow very narrow formulaic plotlines.

VOYAGE possesses a touch more dramatic heft.  The central plot involves a natural cataclysm of the sort that would earn Allen the name of "master of disaster" in later films-- specifically, that Earth's Van Allen radiation belt catches fire.  Worldwide debate ensues, lining up between the "do-nothings," who posit that the fire will burn itself out, and the "do-somethings," who claim that the fire must be put out by positive action.  Retired Navy admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon), who built the super-submarine "Seaview" with his own resources but is still vaguely tied to the American military.  Nelson, in concert with research scientist Professor Emery (Peter Lorre), determines that nothing will stop the fire but an atomic missile fired from just the right position into the Van Allen belt-- and he also determines that he will use the Seaview to do so, no matter what anyone else says.

Among the crew that signs up to join Nelson on his perhaps-mad mission are young Lee Crane, with whom Nelson has a surrogate father-son relationship, and Crane's girlfriend Cathy, who is Nelson's secretary.  The two are scheduled to be married (though Cathy is first seen lasciviously shaking her rear end to the music of another sailor, played by the redoubtable Frankie Avalon).  Crane's loyalty to Nelson is destined to be tested, however, in a manner that suggests the age-old alpha-male conflict of "father" and "son."

What Allen's script produces is something like THE CAINE MUTINY with science fiction trimmings.  As the Seaview makes relentless progress toward its goal, the sailors are driven hard, and two lives are lost, causing Crane to question Nelson's sanity.  In addition to external threats, such as antique mines and a giant octopus, a saboteur is aboard.  Is he religious fanatic Alvarez, who draws sharp censure from Crane for counseling the sailors to sit back and accept their God-given fate?  Or is it some less likely suspect?

As it happens, both Alvarez and another passenger provide different internal threats, but the real emphasis is upon Nelson's stress.  Significantly, he alienates Crane when he slaps around the malingering Avalon character, with the result that the Seaview's progress is almost impeded by Oedipal issues.  Fortunately for the world, those issues are overcome in the nick of time, and the world is saved.

Interestingly, when this core concept was turned into the teleseries, I rarely if ever saw such conflict between the teleseries versions of Crane and Nelson.


  1. There was some conflict between Nelson and Crane in the first season of the series. At that point,the show was much more serious and dark,much cold war intrigue. Later seasons moved more to the realm of kid's adventure program with monsters and fantasy elements.

  2. Thanks, I remember all the quasi-realistic spy stuff but not so much conflict between Crane and Nelson. But the movie probably emphasizes it most, in line with the possible "Crane Mutiny" subplot (ouch)