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  City Under the Sea, The He's Fallen In The Water
Year: 1965
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Vincent Price, David Tomlinson, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, John Le Mesurier, Henry Oscar, Derek Newark, Roy Patrick, Tony Selby
Genre: Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: In 1903 a body has been washed up on the coast of Cornwall, and some of the locals venture down one stormy night to see who it is. It turns out to be a lawyer who was seeing to the affairs of the denizens of the mansion house nearby, and one of the two Americans in the area, Ben Harris (Tab Hunter), is concerned to discover what has been going on so arrives at the front door and is invited in to meet the other American, Jill Tregillis (Susan Hart), who is there to see about her inheritance. Also there is artist Harold Tufnell-Jones (David Tomlinson) - but it's Ben's encounter with a fishman in the dark which bothers him.

Actually, you could argue that the real star of The City Under the Sea was not any of those people, not first billed Vincent Price either, and not even a human being. Step forward Herbert the Chicken as the stellar addition to the cast, an unassuming fowl who alternates between great usefulness and something of a burden, playing the pet of Tomlinson's character which accompanies him everywhere, often in her own basket. Though quite why she's marked out as a hen when she's called Herbert is one of the greatest mysteries in cinema - well, maybe that's overstating it, but no chicken by that name appears in the Edgar Allan Poe poem this was supposedly based upon.

Then again, this didn't have so much to do with Poe than it did American International Pictures' version of the revered writer's work, so they had to put Price in there somewhere (he's not actually in it as much as you might have liked), plonk a reincarnation aspect to the plot right in the middle of proceedings, and then have Price intone a reading of the poem at any lull in the action for spurious connection. The alternative title for this British production was War-Gods of the Deep, which indicated where its heart lay, not so much an atmospheric adventure as a Saturday matinee effort with enough action to stop the kids in the audience throwing their popcorn at the screen. That in spite of the director being Jacques Tourneur.

Making his final film, it should be noted, so while there was a move towards his trademark mood and rich tones, he didn't really bring much more to this than any of AIP's journeymen would have done. That's not to say it was bad, it was simply underwhelming, not helped by a plot which never went anywhere particularly exciting in spite of the presence of a volcano threatening the city of the title. Ben and Harold - and Herbert - are forced to go under the sea when Jill is kidnapped, which they find out later is because there is a marked resemblance between her and the Price character's long lost wife, so naturally he thinks that's her reincarnated. Price was playing the leader of the city Sir Hugh, and a dour, soft-spoken chap he was.

Whether that was thanks to the star playing it subdued for menace, or because he wasn't that interested when it came to shoot his scenes went unrecorded, but he is fairly effective, just underused. Sir Hugh and his cohorts have lived for almost a hundred years thanks to some ill-defined magical quality of the environment, but now this is all set to end with the volcano rumbling away across the ocean floor. What this leads to is John Le Mesurier with a faltering memory guiding our heroes through the best way to escape, which involved an interminable underwater sequence with stunt divers filling in for the cast, who are reduced to looking meaningfully about in helmets pretending to be underwater - Herbert gets to share Harold's, which can't have been comfortable for either of them. This happens not once but twice, and kills the pace stone dead, gillmen threat or no. So what you had was an overstretched yarn which passed the time but was nobody's idea of a classic in the vein of the Jules Verne efforts it aped. Music by Stanley Black.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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