Monday, August 4, 2008

Below the Sea

What movie was released in 1933 and featured Fay Wray threatened by a giant, monstrous creature? If you guessed “King Kong” you would be correct.

But if you guessed “Below the Sea” you would also be correct.

Produced by Columbia Pictures, “Below the Sea” is one of those long-forgotten gems that TCM has been showing of late, thanks to their acquisition of rights to air Columbia titles.

I had never heard of “Below the Sea” before, but thanks to TCM I got to see it. It was a lot of fun.

“Below the Sea” tells of an expedition to search for a sunken, gold-laden World War I German submarine seven years after the war. Ralph Bellamy, in rare leading man status, heads the expedition, quickly butting heads with the expedition’s financial backer, the delectable Ms. Wray. Of course, they take an instant dislike to each other, but we know that won’t last long.

The first eight minutes or so of the movie are very interesting, being set during World War I on the submarine. All the dialogue is in German and there are no sub-titles. That struck me as a pretty modern touch for a 1933 movie.

The submarine’s commander is also along for the expedition, to show them where the submarine sank, but you just know he’s up to no good.

The film’s climax is pretty darn exciting as Fay and a crewmember are trapped in a diving bell that is attacked by a giant octopus. Good special effects are on display here as one of the giant tentacles snaps the diving bell line, causing the diving bell to sink to the ocean floor. Not only that, but the diving bell’s oxygen supply is slowly running out. Bellamy puts on a diving suit to dive down and re-hook the bell line; hard to do when he’s also fighting the octopus with an acetylene torch. The big drawback to the scene is lack of music. Composer Max Steiner demonstrated in “King Kong” how effective music can be to make fight scenes more exciting, but no matter. It’s still a marvelous sequence, and I was pretty amazed to watch it unfold.

It left me to wonder how many other B movie gems are out there that haven’t been shown in decades. Thanks to TCM, we’re able to see some of these jewels.

“Below the Sea” won’t re-write the history of movies, but it’s a very pleasant way to spend 75 minutes.

Rating for “Below the Sea”: Two and a half stars.

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