Director – Montgomery Tully, Screenplay – Lance Z. Hargreaves, Producer – Charles Reynolds, Photography – Kenneth Talbot, Music – Ken Jones, Special Effects – Tom Howard, Art Direction – Jim Morahan. Production Company – Reynolds-Vetter/MGM.
Kerwin Mathews (Commander Jonathan Shaw), Peter Arne (Dr Arnold Kramer), Martin Benson (General Chan Lu), Edward Bishop (Lieutenant Commander Vance Cassidy), Robert Ayres (Admiral Felix Hildebrand), Vivienne Ventura (Tila Yung), Peter Elliott (Kengh Lee)
US Navy commander Jonathan Shaw does his secretary a favour and goes to visit her brother Dr Arnold Kramer who has been incarcerated in an asylum. Kramer is obsessed with ‘ants’ and underground tunnels. A series of disasters then makes Shaw think that Kramer may not be crazy after all. Soon he and his troops uncover evidence of a vast network of tunnels burrowed underneath the USA by Communist Chinese saboteurs.
Battle Beneath the Earth was a film that was probably made ten years too late. It belongs in the heyday of McCarthyism along with other Reds Under the Bed Communist hysteria films like Red Planet Mars (1952), Invasion USA (1952) and Rocket Attack USA (1958), not in the 1960s after the arrival of entente and the great East-West thawing.
Peculiarly it is also a Communist hysteria film made in the UK, a country that had relatively low Communist paranoia anxieties in comparison to the USA. It is also nice to see the Chinese Communists getting some equal time as subjects of hysteria rather than the customarily featured Russian Communists (although the actors playing the Chinese are all Caucasian actors unconvincingly made up as Asians). There is certainly an alarming xenophobia to the film – without even thinking about it, the American soldiers open fire the moment they see Chinese soldiers in the tunnels.
Director Montgomery Tully adopts the documentary-like stolidity of most 1950s action films and everything comes with a heavy-handed didacticism. There is a crude, pedestrian vigour to the film – the same sort of crude excitement most 1950s war films operated on. Many scenes often come across as silly – like one where Peter Arne is brainwashed by a Chinese woman using a handheld fan, or the conceptually daft scene where the military organise the entire US to make no sound for thirty minutes so they can detect the noise of the underground operations. The film is also often undone by poor special effects – the laser is simply a spotlight beam and the explosions are double-exposed fireballs.
Irish-born director Montgomery Tully specialised in so-called British quota quickies, making over fifty films (mostly crime thrillers) between the mid-40s and Battle Beneath the Earth, the last film he made before he retired. He made two other ventures into science-fiction with The Electronic Monster/Escapement (1960) about dream programming and the alien abduction film The Terrornauts (1967).
Full film available online here:-