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Film

Don’t Open That Door! #52: 'Atomic Submarine' (1959)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: things heat up in the icy Arctic waters surrounding our Atomic Submarine.


Atomic Submarine

Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Cast: Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, Brett Halsey, Paul Dubov, Tom Conway
US Release Date: 1959-11-29

Alternative titles: Run Silent, Run Deep, Run Around in Circles; It's Not Just a Blob, It's an Adventure

POSITIVES:

Starts briskly, maintains a crisp pace throughout.

Plenty of fun-but-cheesy model work and underwater effects.

Layers of mystery—shipwrecks, feuds, frogmen—are piled on.

Surprisingly little stock footage used.

Some attempt to introduce ideas about duty, peace, war and courage that fall outside the mainstream for most monster-mashes.

NEGATIVES:

Mandatory "Life in the Navy/Army/Air Force/Marines sure is goofy but fun" subtext.

Ultimately, the interesting ideas are thrown out in favor of a simplistic military-power-is-good message.

SYNOPSIS: A series of disasters strikes the atomic passenger submarines gliding beneath the Arctic ice in the 1950s—betcha don't remember them, do ya? Well, they were there all right. The Pentagon is concerned enough to send yet another atomic submarine, this one the top-of-the-line military vessel Tiger Shark, to go snooping around. The crew is led by one Captain Dan, who doesn't look too thrilled with this assignment, but that's another story.


Maybe he's less than thrilled because his vapid crewman—Dave, Richard aka Reef, and comic-relief wiseguy Chester—are all going to spend the trip yukking it up inside the submarine instead of shivering on the tip of iceberg where they belong. In any case, Commander Dan wastes little time in shoving off for the North Pole with his crew and scientist passengers, Sir Ian and Dr Clifford. (You can tell they're scientists by their foreign accents.) Just in case there's not enough going on already, a nifty little subplot rears up involving a green (in more ways than one) scientist named Dr. Carl and his rival, crewman Richard aka Reef. Obviously there's bad blood between them, but for now we don't know why. (But I bet we'll find out pretty soon.) Oh and there are frogmen going along for the ride too, but for now we don't know why. (But I bet we'll find out pretty soon.)

Soon enough, the Tiger Shark has its own close encounter with whatever it is that's causing these underwater disasters, though for now we remain in the dark as to what it is. (But I bet we'll find out pretty soon.) What we do know is that the sub has been left adrift at the north Pole, which is a crummy place to be stuck without a paddle, or an atomic engine for that matter. Sir Ian and Dr Clifford have worked out a little theory about what's going on, which should surprise absolutely nobody watching this movie. One quick fender-bender later, and the crew is climbing aboard a mysterious, um, underwater phenomenon. There's no telling what'll happen once they get poking around in there… But I get the feeling we'll all find out pretty soon.

Best lines of dialogue in response to the question, "Have you tried to get his side?": "His side? He's all front, with no back! How can he have a side?"

Other best line of dialogue: "Now they're feeling it down below." Well, it is the Navy after all.

What gets atomized: A submarine; numerous ships and subs (mostly by report, though we do see glimpses); a couple good swimmers; a guy who shoulda known better; Something Mysterious under the polar ice cap (or above it, actually).

What gets saved: Well now, that's a bit trickier to quantify.

Did you notice? Richard aka Reef smokes constantly on board the submarine. I'm not sure, but, I don't think that's allowed… limited fresh air on board, y'know. Also, should they really be carrying guns like that?

Somehow their careers survived: Arthur Franz (Richard aka Reef) was a familiar face to 1950s sci-fi fans, appearing in 1953's Invaders From Mars as well as starring in The Flame Barrier and Monster on the Campus (both 1958). He also did piles of TV work in the '50s, '60s and '70s. Dick Foran (Captain Dan) also worked plenty of TV, with an emphasis on Westerns. Brett Halsey (Carl)'s career has stretched over 50 years, from 1953's All I Desire to 2008's Cold Case TV show; in 1961 he won a Golden Globe award for Most Promising Newcomer. Paul Dubov (Dave) had appeared in Roger Corman's 1955 mini-epic The Day the World Ended and would go on to, among other things, Voodoo Woman (1957) alongside Tom Conway (Sir Ian). Conway had appeared in the original Cat People (1942) and also starred in The She Creature (1956) and 1960's 12 to the Moon. Despite being a pretty classy actor, he always seemed to wind up in movies like Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953), in which he played an ivory poacher named Fidel. Go figure.


BOTTOM LINE: A taut little thriller that keeps things moving with only occasional lulls. Worth a look.

NEXT WEEK: The Abominable Snowman (1957)

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