Review Date: 10/14/13
Written, Directed, And Produced By: Irwin Allen
Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Robert Sterling, Barbara Eden, Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Michael Ansara, Frankie Avalon
It's tedious, talky, and full of pseudo science and technical absurdities, but its spirit of adventure and sense of wonder are strong and true. Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is a brilliant, but controversial member of the scientific community. He and Captain Lee Crane (dashing Robert Sterling) are in command of a super submarine called Seaview, and while on a research mission at the North Pole, the Earth's atmosphere catches on fire when a freak meteor shower ignites the Van Allen Belt. The entire planet is scorched as surface temperatures approach 175 degrees Fahrenheit, leading Nelson and his crew on a desperate mission to destroy the Van Allen Belt with a nuclear missile. But not everyone agrees with this radical approach, and the crew eventually breaks down under stress. The "happy ending" is questionable, as the entire planet lies in ruin.
It's a top grade production and most of the visual effects hold up quite well for its age, although the giant squid is a bit laughable. Stern Walter Pidgeon and hot-headed Robert Sterling give excellent performances, and it's the tense dynamic between the two of them that holds the film together. Spunky Barbara Eden and pretty Joan Fontaine (with AWFUL hair) provide some nice female eye candy, and their tight pencil skirts and black pumps are as sexy as they are out of place. Typical of the action/adventure genre, there is a lot of manufactured drama. Sabotage! Murder! Mutiny! Religion! Lovers quarrels! Scientific debates! Icebergs! Giant sea monsters! Mine fields! The cockamamie science in the film is passable if you have an open mind, but one scene in particular is utterly unforgivable. On their way back to New York, the submarine is pelted with chunks of sinking ice. Um, what? I think everyone can agree that ice floats, and icebergs float, and if a chunk of ice breaks off of an iceberg, it's going to float, too. So that broke my suspension of disbelief fairly early in the film, and it never fully returned. Apart from that, it's a fun and enjoyable underwater adventure that harkens back to a more playful, innocent, and hopeful time.