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SHARKFIGHTERS, THE (director: Jerry Hopper; screenwriters: from a story by Jo & Art Napoleon/Jonathan Robinson/Lawrence Roman; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Jerome Moross; cast: Victor Mature (Lt. Cmdr. Ben Staves), Karen Steele (Martha Staves), James Olson (Ens. Harold Duncan), Philip Coolidge (Lt. Cmdr. Leonard Evans), Claude Akins (Chief ‘Gordy’ Gordon), Rafael Campos (Carlos), George Neise (Cmdr. George Zimmer), Charles Collingwood (Narrator); Runtime: 73; United Artists; 1956)
“The Sharkfighters is a surprisingly effective and sensible adventure story that holds one’s interest…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filmed in sunny Cuba, on the Isle of Pines, where the American Navy has set up a research science project to develop a shark repellent that could save the lives of WW11 downed fliers. The Sharkfighters is a surprisingly effective and sensible adventure story that holds one’s interest, though some might find it too bland for their more demanding tastes for action. It is told in a straightforward semi-documentary style with some exciting action sequences.

Lt. Cmdr. Ben Staves (Mature) is a navy hero, who is upset because he lost some crew members to sharks when his plane was shot down in combat. The gritty Ben is recovering from injuries to his side which hamper his lateral movements and cause him to grimace from pain when exerting himself. He feels so responsible for the loss of his crew’s lives that he rushes back to action before he has healed properly, as he offers his leadership skills to help a team of scientists quickly come up with a shark repellent. His friend, Cmdr. George Zimmer (Neise), uses his influence to get him assigned to the navy science project in Cuba where he’s to work with the current commander, Evans (Coolidge).

Evans is concerned that Staves, who outranks him, is here to take away his command and blame him for why progress is going very slowly, but he is reassured that Staves is only here to push the project on at a faster clip and help in any way he can. Evans is a scientist who is cautious by nature and who wants the product he develops to pass muster in his experiments, according to scientific procedure, before he recommends it to the navy. While Staves is an impatient man of steely determination and action, as he clashes with Evans to take more risks.

The others working on the project are Ensign Duncan (Olson), who is the chemist. The young man has ants in his pants about the project and wants to go where the war action is, but his requests for a transfer to a destroyer have been denied because of his value to this project. Chief ‘Gordy’ Gordon (Akins) is the cameraman and on his unofficial duties he keeps the crew supplied with beer and barters for chickens from the locals so the men on the science mission can have fresh food, but his even more pronounced duties come about from his unsaid role — to look up to Staves as the ‘real deal’ Navy man and be the sailor everybody trusts.

After a number of tests prove successful when the scientists throw the repellent in the ocean and all the sharks avoid that area, the two commanders have different reactions. Staves wants to call it a success and have the men use the repellent even if it hasn’t been tested by humans, while Evans thinks that would be too hasty a decision. The young Cuban boy Carlos (Campos), employed by them to help with the chores on the boat, mugs for the camera to celebrate that the repellent works and accidentally falls into the shark-infested water. Staves sees this as an opportunity for a human guinea pig test, as he has Carlos swim over to the repellent. But a group of sharks come along and eat Carlos for a snack. There goes that experiment, which only proves how unpredictable the sharks are.

When off-duty Staves is either drinking a lot of beer, or is in nearby Havana with his sweet blonde wife of the last six years, Martha (Steele). Staves either frolics with her on the heavenly beach (pre-Castro) or dances up a storm in one of the night spots (Ah! the good old days before communism). Martha is concerned that her husband is up to something dangerous, as she senses the tension that has overcome him in the last few days. She discusses this with Evans, but he’s no squealer and stops short of telling her that her hubby has insisted that he become a human guinea pig to see if the octopi concoction that he and Duncan have come up with really works. This concluding sequence with Mature in the shark-infested water as a group of sharks circle around him while the crew is manning the boat with two navy rifle experts standing by in case the sharks attack, was suspenseful and well-done.

REVIEWED ON 7/31/2002 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”