As atomic technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds, it has not only been used for nuclear weaponry for it has also been applied to power submarines, but with the ability to explore the world's oceans like never before there comes a new possibility of a mysterious threat, which culminates in the loss of the American vessel The Sturgeon, which goes down with all hands and nobody back at base can work out why. It is clear there is a pressing need for a fresh excursion to the location of the incident, and thus the Americans' most accomplished submarine is put into service, heading off to the Arctic Ocean and eventually the North Pole, for it can travel beneath the icy surface, among its many benefits thanks to American know-how. But if it is not the Soviets behind these naval disasters, who is it?
Although it kept its cards close to its chest for a long while, The Atomic Submarine was not a war movie, though the military played a major part of the plot as we followed what has often been identified as the main precursor to Irwin Allen's nineteen-sixties movie and television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. That idea of a group of well-trained and highly capable men (and occasional women) organised as representatives of the military was a much-utilised trope in science fiction of the day, after all, who was most likely to investigate and potentially combat space aliens but the armed forces? You could see this premise in the most famous examples of the form during this Golden Age, from The Thing from Another World at the movies to Star Trek on television, and this little item slotted in comfortably between them.
Actually, though running a little over an hour it managed to make some meal of its plot, throwing in humour and debate and even conflict amongst that crew. Arthur Franz was our rough-hewn hero, a loyal Navy man whose nose is put out of joint by the presence of peacenik scientist Brett Halsey who has been enlisted to stand in for his ailing father, and to Franz there's nothing worse than a man who wishes science to work towards the benefit of mankind rather than providing it with novel new methods of pitting us against one another, a point of view the film tends to share. Much of that was demonstrated in the manner this resolved itself, for if you were anticipating the culprit for those ocean attacks being of Earth origin, think again, as this film was about to have a lot more fun than it would have in a simple Cold War yarn.
Up until the final twenty minutes The Atomic Submarine has been a paradoxically dry tale for one so indebted to the sea, but once the crew locate the alien flying saucer, which can travel under the water and in the air with similar ease, things start getting interesting and your time spent here pays off. For instance, on discovering their torpedoes are foiled by the craft's, er, craftiness, they go for the obvious option: they ram the submarine right through its hull! Batting away any protests about health and safety regulations not recommending such drastic action, a team is sent to board the saucer whereupon this improves no end, with some surprisingly bloodthirsty fates for some of their number and the alien itself revealed to be an especially grotty puppet, one eye glaring balefully at Franz as it invades the man's thoughts telepathically and sets out its plans for, you guessed it, world domination. For that reason, this otherwise pretty boring movie is worth sticking with: they left the best, or the nuttiest at least, for last. Music by Alexander Laszlo (with electronic effects!).