WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (aka: THE CITY UNDER THE SEA)
(director: Jacques Tourneur; screenwriters: Charles Bennett/Louis M. Heyward/based on the Poem The City in the Sea by Edgar Allan Poe; cinematographers: Stephen Dade/underwater photography: Neil Ginger Gemmell & John Lamb; editor: Gordon Hales; music: Stanley Black; cast: Tab Hunter (Ben Harris), David Tomlinson (Harold Tufnell-Jones), Vincent Price (Captain Sir Hugh Tregathian), Susan Hart (Jill Tregellis), John Le Mesurier (Reverend Jonathan Ives), Derek Newark (Dan), Henry Oscar (Mumford); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Willoughby; MGM Home Entertainment; 1965-UK)
“A bit of a disappointment.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The final film for the usually great filmmaker Jacques Tourneur (“Cat People”/”I Walked with a Zombie”/”The Leopard Man”) is a bit of a disappointment, though terrific visually it’s stiffly acted by everyone except for Vincent Price (and even he’s not at the top of his game, but seems to be giving a rote performance) and by its shoddy sci-fi story that’s never as convincing or adventurous as it should be. It’s inspired by Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo and by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The City in the Sea; it’s written by Charles Bennett and Louis M. Heyward.
On the Cornish coast in 1903, there’s some mysterious occurrences and a visitor seismologist washes up on shore dead. The locals attribute these incidents to the recent presence of Americans, who they intimate always bring trouble with them. Jill Tregellis (Susan Hart) is an attractive young American, who owns a converted manor house hotel. Staying there is the macho American mining engineer Ben Harris (Tab Hunter) and the eccentric kilt-wearing British artist Harold Tufnell-Jones (David Tomlinson), who keeps a pet chicken named Herbert and is around for comic relief (except he’s not funny). Harold’s sketch of Jill is stolen among other items in the hotel, and the biggest clue to the theft is a trail of seaweed. When Jill is discovered kidnapped later that night, Ben and Harold follow the seaweed trail to a concealed door in the library and uncover a secret passage leading to the sea. This leads them to an ancient ruined underground city called Lyonesse, which is surrounded by a volcano that is about to erupt. The men discover Lyonesse has been ruled for the last century by the deranged but suave Captain Hugh (Vincent Price), a Captain Nemo knockoff, who rules with an iron fist over a band of smugglers and slaves called gillmen (half-men). The Captain kidnapped Jill, after seeing the stolen sketch, because she reminded him of his beloved wife Beatrice who passed away a hundred years ago and he believes Jill’s her reincarnation.
Life is eternally blissful for the tyrannical and ever youthful Captain (due to the strange mixture of oxygen in the underground city), who uses the gillmen to act as warriors, to catch fish for food and guard the underground city from invaders. The question becomes if Ben, Harold and Jill can escape from their captor and get out before the volcano erupts.
There’s very little Poe in a film based on his poem (only a world-weary Price reading bits from “The City Under the Sea” at various times throughout the film). The AIP cheapie tries to cash in on the popular Corman Poe films, but despite the sometime innovative efforts of the talented director to inject some life into the inert film and the always haunting presence of Price—this lackluster fantasy just didn’t have much going for it except its colorful undersea set designs.
REVIEWED ON 1/8/2009 GRADE: C+