A few years ago, I read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…sort of. I’ve never been a big reader, after all, I spend a lot more time watching movies. But, at the time, I had a bit of a “books on tape” habit…so technically I listened to the Jules Verne classic. I admit, I struggled with it a bit. It was heavy on the science and certainly didn’t conjure up images in my mind of Kirk Douglas battling giant squids and singing Disney tunes. The story may not have inspired me, but it has certainly inspired others. Since the book has been in the public domain for some time, other stories featuring Captain Nemo have been created over the years…among them, the 1969 film “Captain Nemo and the Underwater City.”
The film begins with a ship headed for England sinking in a storm. Most of the passengers make it to the lifeboats, but a handful end up in the drink. Just when it looks like this is going to be a short movie, the doomed passengers are rescued by some guys in funky scuba outfits.
The survivors soon find themselves on board the submarine Nautilus, under the command of genius / madman Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan). The survivors are US Senator Robert Fraser (Chuck Connors), claustrophobic engineer Mr. Lomax (Allan Cuthbertson), single mom Helena Beckett (Nanette Newman), her young son Phillip (Christopher Hartstone), and brothers Barnaby and Swallow Bath (Bill Fraser & Kenneth Connor) who are obsessed with gold. Along with his second in command Joab (John Turner), Nemo takes these landlubbers to his magnificent underwater domed city, Templemir.
Fraser and company are amazed by the city. An entire civilization of people happily work and play in the city under the watchful eye of Nemo. Fraser soon catches the eye of the lovely school teacher Mala (Luciana Paluzzi), while the Bath brothers can hardly contain themselves over the fact that much of the city is made of gold. You see, the machine that creates the artificial atmosphere for the city, produces gold as a bi-product. The two brothers begin to scheme as to how to bring as much gold as they can back to the surface. Only problem is, Nemo has no intention of allowing any of these folks to return, thus exposing his underwater paradise to the rest of the world. Unable to cope with living in a confined space, Mr. Lomax begins to go mad and search for a way to escape.
After a failed escape attempt, Lomax tries to sabotage the air making machine…which could cause the destruction of the whole city. Lomax not only fails again, but dies in the process…yet considerable damage to the city occurs. During the panic, the Bath brothers wander into a restricted area where they discover a second Nautilus. They begin to plot an escape of their own…but they need Fraser’s help. However, will the others want to leave this underwater utopia?
The highlight of “Captain Nemo and the Underwater City” is definitely the production design. A lot of creativity went into the sets, the costumes, and the design of the submarines and other miniatures. Sure the look is dated…there’s no question it’s a product of the late 60’s…but it’s still quite impressive. Like “Master of the World,” another film based on a Jules Verne book that I reviewed last month, fans of the steampunk look will find a lot to enjoy in this film.
The underwater sequences are also fun. They seem a bit silly to start out, with the cast wearing strange outfits with large wings on the shoulders, but the sequences are well done. And with their shark attacks and giant, Godzilla-style, stingray creatures…it adds a little monster movie goodness to the proceedings.
The acting is solid all-around, though oddly enough, the two leads (Ryan and Connors) are the weaker elements. Connors comes across as almost too heroic, meanwhile Ryan needed a little more evil juice to make Nemo a more satisfying villain. The supporting players, though, do a much better job. Bill Fraser and Kenneth Connor, as the Bath brothers, make a great team and Luciana Paluzzi as Mala could make just about anyone want to stay in an underwater city.
It helps to remember that “Captain Nemo and the Underwater City” was created as a kiddie pic. The film is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but approaching it with a child’s eye makes it a fun little adventure.