Wednesday, November 18, 2009
War-Gods of the Deep (1965)
War-Gods of the Deep is a pretty misleading title, but then, almost everything about this movie is misleading. It has some really awesome parts, but there's also a fair bit of disappointment.
For one thing, there are no war-gods. In fact, there's no war. That part of the title is apparently meant to disguise for US audiences that this is a British adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's "The City Under the Sea." Which is itself a bit of subterfuge because it stars Vincent Price and is clearly meant to cash in on Roger Corman's series of Price-starring Poe adaptations. The sad part is, it doesn't even need a war or any gods. The story is just fine on its own, though it could use some tightening up in places.
The movie starts off brilliantly with a creepy voiceover of Price reading Poe's poem and the discovery of a body washed up on the British shoreline. The corpse is discovered by some fisherman and a visiting American engineer named Ben (Tab Hunter) who recognises it as the lawyer for Jill Tregillis (Susan Hart), the only other American in the village. For some reason, Miss Tregills (which I kept mis-hearing as Mister Gillis) stays in a creepy old mansion on the cliffs overlooking the sea. I think it's supposed to be a hotel, but that was never made real clear.
Anyway, Ben goes to tell Jill that her lawyer's dead, but when he sees her he's distracted by such important concerns as the presence of a painter named Harold Tufnell-Jones (played by David Tomlinson from Mary Poppins and Bedknobs & Broomsticks) and his pet chicken. Even with the murder mystery and the creepy mansion, I was concerned about the story because Ben just kept forgetting to tell Jill what he'd gone there to tell her. He manages to mention the lawyer's name at some point, so Jill thinks that Ben wants to visit the lawyer and escorts Ben to the lawyer's room. It's not until they reach the bedroom door that Ben suddenly decides to blurt out that he found the poor guy on the beach.
Tab Hunter's not exactly bad in the movie, but he doesn't do anything to raise his character beyond the unbelievable dialogue either. At another point, Ben goes on and on about how his work as an engineer requires him to be highly observent so that he doesn't miss any opportunity to seize profit for his employers. That line may have played better in 1965 than it does in 2009, but even so Ben brags about it like it's some kind of super-power.
Back to the awesome parts though: the power's out in the mansion so it's all candles and oil lanterns when Ben discovers and fights with a seaweed-covered gill-man who enters and escapes the lawyer's room through a secret panel. In a second attack, the gill-man captures Jill and disappears with her, leading Ben and Tufnell-Jones (and the chicken) to track them back to an underwater city where Vincent Price rules as captain over both the gill-men and an immortal pirate crew. Like I said, you really don't miss the "war." There's plenty of awesomeness to keep it going without that.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really make good use of its gill-men and immortal pirates in their Vincent Price-ruled undersea city. Ben and Tufnell-Jones are captured and the rest of the story takes it's lead from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as our heroes keep trying to escape and Price tries to prevent them (he's in love with Jill, you see, because she looks exactly like his dead wife). The gill-men are stuck in the water outside the city, basically just an obstacle for the heroes to eventually overcome if they're to get back home. There's an underwater chase sequence where everyone's wearing cool-looking deep-sea suits, but it's too long and so crappily edited that it's impossible to tell who's chasing and/or fighting with whom.
Still, some of the effects are very good, the sets are fantastic, the gill-men look great, and the exterior shots of the underwater city and the cliff-side mansion are amazing. Price is also delightful as usual and Tomlinson always makes me smile, if only because I grew up with him and it feels good to see him in something "new."
Three out of five secret tunnels to the sea.