[August 8, 1962] Abysmal (The Underwater City)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The Sea.  An endless, mysterious expanse.  A potential source for bountiful harvests of food.  An untapped mine of vast mineral wealth.  A battleground to be populated with underwater naval bases. 

An inspiration for far too many lousy movies.

Frontiers are always ripe arenas for adventure stories.  From Outer Space to the frigid poles to the watery depths, they lure us with the promise of riches and resources; they reward us with hardship and death.  Man vs. Nature is one of the classic conflicts, and expertly handled, can be a thrill.

The makers of the latest summer sci-fi film, The Underwater City, were not experts.


(stills are in color, but the film was released in black and white for no explainable reason)

The plot in brief: Contractor is tasked with creating the first ocean-bottom settlement.  He settles on a cluster of independent metal cels, and then joins the first small group of colonists.  Some of the builders die during construction, victims of various undersea perils — from seaquakes to manta rays (?!) One of the settlers rummages around an old wreck to find bottles of scotch.  A giant octopus and a giant moray eel fight at one point for some reason.  And, at the very end, the crust gives way and the colony is lost.


The only reason to build models of an undersea city is…


…to give it the Atlantis treatment.

Our cast:


“Hmmm….says here we’re the main characters so we have to fall in love.”


“Pleased to meet you!  Since we’re men and you’re the woman, you’ll be doing our cooking.”


We’re newlyweds!  Now stay in this room until the end of the movie, please.  You’re pregnant.


You might need some scotch to get through the movie, too.

Certainly, a movie about the first settlement at the bottom of the sea, particularly one with the decent production values of City, could be very interesting, indeed.  This one was flubbed at every turn.  More of an advertisement for undersea living, the kind that might be shown at the World Expo going on right now in Seattle, City is a conglomeration of scenes that serve no narrative. 

I watched this on opening night with The Young Traveler, and I think she encapsulates what was wrong (and inadvertently right) with the film better than I ever could:


by Lorelei Marcus

I read recently that you can tell exactly what a movie is about, just by its opening shot. Unfortunately, the only thing the opening shot of The Underwater City told us was that it was going to be a bad movie. That said, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a quite enjoyable experience. Taking advantage of the empty theater, my father and I commentated throughout the entire film, making it a bearable watch. This form of viewing can make anything entertaining, but this movie was something special.

The first interesting trait of this movie is…it wasn’t one. Walking out of the theater, my father and I kept repeating how what we just watched wasn’t a movie! There were scenes, and things that happened, sort of. Still, there was no coherent plot to speak of! Not to mention there was no conflict either. Any potential conflict was quickly resolved a few seconds later by either a character dying or being saved. There was no time to feel anything at all! (And yet the underwater scenes still seemed to drag on forever.) Even the final conflict was resolved within 10 minutes!


“Just wanted to let you know, I found the plot.”  “It’s about time!”


“Oh no!  We’re trapped because of the quake!  We’ll never… oh look.  A rescue submarine.”

There isn’t much to say about the sets and acting. The acting was mediocre and really didn’t add anything to the story. The two main sets of the ‘movie’ were the underwater city rooms and the underwater set. The underwater city was honestly very bland, and surprisingly roomy. After recently touring an aircraft carrier myself, the underwater modules looked absurdly spacious, especially for so few people living in them.


“The bowling alley is down the hall, gentlemen…”

The underwater scenes were actually fairly convincing.  The rocks and coral were nice, and the filter on the camera added that extra level. My dad was actually fooled for most of the ‘movie,’ until he realized the ‘air bubbles’ coming out of their breathing modules were actually soap bubbles.


Never sneeze in SCUBA gear

I’d say my favorite part of the ‘movie’ was all the stock footage of adorable sea creatures! The appearances such as the deadly shark, giant eel, giant manta ray, and giant octopus, really brought an extra layer of entertainment to the movie. The science of how the city became self sustaining underwater would’ve been interesting to me too. Unfortunately, the ‘movie’ didn’t show any of that — we just heard the characters telling us that the city was self sustaining.


“Why are we fighting again?”  “Shut up!  This is for Hollywood!”

In fact, the entire movie reversed the old adage, deciding that the best stories come from telling, not showing! They stuck so hard to this rule that they had a narrator describe everything that was happening on screen for the first half of the entire movie. I actually wondered if my father had gotten a version for the visually impaired! Apparently not, however, as said narrator disappeared halfway through the film, never to return.


Best not to show…just tell.

I would recommend you only watch this movie for fun and not for any cinematographic value. The dry and clunky story telling, the absurd science, and the nonexistent plot really make this movie, well, not a movie. I give it 1 star as a serious watch, but an honorary score of -3 for its unintended goodness. This movie is best enjoyed with friends, being made fun of.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.