aka War-Gods of the Deep
Director – Jacques Tourneur, Screenplay – Charles Bennett & Louis M. Heyward, Additional Dialogue – David Whittaker, Based on the Poem The City in the Sea by Edgar Allan Poe, Producer – George Willoughby, Photography – Stephen Dade, Underwater Photography – Neil Ginger Gemmell & John Lamb, Music – Stanley Black, Special Effects – Les Bowie & Frank George, Production Design – Daniel Haller. Production Company – Anglo-Amalgamated/Bruton Film.
Tab Hunter (Ben Harris), David Tomlinson (Harold Tufnell-Jones), Vincent Price (Captain Sir Hugh Tregathian), Susan Hart (Jill Tregellis), John Le Mesurier (Reverend Jonathan Ives), Derek Newark (Dan)
Around the turn of the century, American mining engineer Ben Harris is working on the Cornish coast in England when he finds a body washed up on the beach. While making inquiries at the nearby hotel, he, the hotelier’s daughter Jill Tregellis and an eccentric artist follow an intruder through a secret door into the caves under the house where they are sucked into a pool. They emerge in a cavernous city on the ocean floor. The city was built by a race of ancients who survive only as a breed of gill men. The city is now inhabited by a group of smugglers led by the cruel and tyrannical Captain who hid down there in 1803 and due to the strange mixture of oxygen have not aged in over a century. However, the volcano that powers the city has become unstable. The Captain now imprisons them until Ben can come up with a means of maintaining it.
The City Under the City, also known as War-Gods of the Deep, tries to jump on the bandwagon of Edgar Allan Poe films that was started by Roger Corman with The House of Usher (1960). Corman with Vincent Price as his star made seven Poe films but then quit in 1964. Due to the popularity of the series, many other people continued to make Poe films – such as The Oblong Box (1969) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) – and pseudo-Poe films such as Michael Reeves’ historical witchcraft persecution film Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General (1968), which was given the name of the Edgar Allan Poe poem The Conqueror Worm for US release, and this.
The City Under the Sea‘s claim to anything to do with Edgar Allan Poe is exceedingly slim. Vincent Price recites from the Poe poem over the opening and finishing credits. The film takes the central image from the poem – which only consists of the image of a mysterious city under the sea – but where Poe played it for doom-laden ambience, the film plays it deadeningly literally, fashioning a standard lost city story. And there is of course Vincent Price, star of most of Roger Corman’s Poe films, who plays a character who, vaguely in the style of the Corman Poe films, is gloomily obsessed with a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his wife. However, resemblances end about there.
More so than any kinship to the Corman Poe films, The City Under the Sea resembles the cycle of Jules Verne adaptations that proliferated in the 1960s, begun with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). The City Under the Sea virtually repeats the formula of the Verne films – the handsome hero, the fuddy-duddy middle-aged scholar and, as in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), a fowl along for the journey into the lost world. Vincent Price’s Captain is of course cast as a Captain Nemo figure.
The adventure itself is a hollow affair. The film has some amazing sets – a cavern where prisoners are tied up to be drowned as torrents of water cascade in over a giant hand; colossal caverns; uniquely designed diving suits with helmets that resemble brass coal scuttles with ornamented swordfish attached to them. Everything predictably goes up in a spectacular mass destruction climax. However, the action in between is flat – it never mounts to the grandly-scaled action adventure it seems to want to be. Indeed, not that much happens throughout. The underwater chase at the climax is laborious – it is like watching action on Still Advance.
The City Under the Sea was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who made several excellent psychological horror films – namely Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943) and Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (1957). Alas, The City Under the Sea, the last film he would make, and is one disappointment in Tourneur’s otherwise fine oeuvre.