Latitude Zero (US/Japan 1969)

Rating: **
Review Date: 8/11/19
Director: Ishiro Honda
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Richard Jaeckel, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Linda Haynes

An expedition to study the Cromwell Current becomes an underwater disaster when a bathysphere containing two scientists (Akira Takarada and Masumi Okada) and a photo journalist (Richard Jaeckel) is knocked into a deep gorge by a volcanic eruption. The crew is miraculously rescued by a mysterious submarine called The Alpha, piloted by a Nemo-like Captain McKenzie (Joseph Cotten). The submarine takes them to an underwater utopia called Latitude Zero, where everyone is smart, happy, healthy, peaceful, beautiful, and forever young (McKenzie claims that he is 204 years old). However, McKenzie has a cruel and power-mad rival named Dr. Malic (Cesar Romero) who lives on an island fortress called Blood Rock, and wants nothing more than to destroy McKenzie and his perfect little community. When Malic kidnaps a prominent Japanese scientist, McKenzie and his guests mount a rescue mission and test out The Alpha's new flight capabilities. That's right, this is yet another movie about a flying submarine.

While this was an American/Japanese co-production, Toho Studios ended up footing most of the bill and the film is overflowing with director Ishiro Honda's cinematic sensibilities. It features some remarkable and memorable miniature work, but the matte paintings and monsters are downright embarrassing. One of Malic's horrific creations is a giant flying lion, which looks hilariously awful. The story is weak, the pacing is sluggish, and Akira Ifukube's music score sounds way too much like his previous "Godzilla" work. The acting is mediocre at best, and Joseph Cotten looks clearly embarrassed by the whole thing. Cesar Romero plays up his campy villain with maniacal glee, while Richard Jaeckel is a constant irritant as the loud and obnoxious American journalist. Linda Haynes is intended to be a sexy blonde bombshell, but lacks any sort of charisma or appeal. The film ends on a bizarre and unsatisfying note which implies that the entire adventure was an elaborate hallucination by the lone survivor of the bathysphere accident. Or was it? Apart from a handful of neat effects and explosions, it's not a journey worth taking.