Updated: June 26, 2014|
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a science-fiction film directed by Irwin
Allen and released in 1961. Walter Pidgeon starred as Admiral Harriman Nelson,
designer/builder of USOS Seaview, a futuristic nuclear submarine, with Robert
Sterling as Capt Lee Crane, and Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Michael Ansara and
Peter Lorre. The theme song is sung by Frankie Avalon, who also has a part in
The plot involves the Van Allen radiation belt catching fire, causing a deadly
global heat wave while the submarine Seaview is on diving trials in the Arctic
Ocean. With a plan to extinguish the orbiting flames, Admiral Nelson (Pidgeon)
and Commodore Emery (Lorre) are shouted down at a UN emergency meeting, and the
submarine races to the Pacific to launch a missile from the Marianas Trench.
Trouble for those on board the sub begins when it emerges there is a saboteur
amongst them. But is it the rescued scientist Alvarez (Ansara), or the
stress-observing psychologist (Fontaine) ?
The film submarine's design is unique in that it features an eight-window bow
viewport which gives panoramic undersea views (in the novel of the film by
Theodore Sturgeon, the windows are described as "transparent hullplating", a
process developed by Nelson as "X-tempered herculite"). The bow/nose also has a
shark-like bottom flare, and the stern has extended V-shaped wing/tail surfaces.
In the film, the USOS Seaview (United States Oceanographic Survey) is under the
authority of Nelson and the Bureau of Marine Exploration. The novel mentions the
Bureau as being part of the US Department of Science.
The film is riddled with scientific and technical absurdities (for instance, the
Van Allen belt is made up of subatomic particles which cannot catch fire, even
if there were oxygen in space), and the plot is driven by piling one disaster on
top of another (a minefield, a hostile submarine, a giant squid, a near-mutiny
and a religious fanatic).
Near the end of the film the saboteur is unmasked, then falls into the sub's
aquarium during a fight and is eaten by a shark that the sub's marine biologist
(Lorre) just happens to have on board for research purposes.
Eventually, despite the efforts of the fanatic to prevent it, the sub launches a
nuclear missile into the belt, extinguishing the fire and saving the world.
The name of the film is an inversion of a phrase appearing at about its time,
concerning the exploration of the Arctic Ocean by nuclear submarines, namely, "a
voyage to the top of the world." No large submarine can reach the ocean floor in
the high seas and safely return.
The success of the movie led to the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (TV series)
In June 1961, Pyramid Books published a novelization of the feature film by
Theodore Sturgeon. The book was reprinted several times during the 1960's.