Hello Down There (1969) poster

Hello Down There (1969)


USA. 1969.


Director – Jack Arnold, Screenplay – John McGreevey & Frank Telford, Story – Art Arthur & Ivan Tors, Producer – George Sherman, Photography – Clifford Poland, Music – Jeff Barry, Art Direction – Jack Collis, Underwater Sequences Directed by Ricou Browing, Underwater Photography – Lamar Boren & Jordan Klein. Production Company – Ivan Tors Films, Inc./Paramount.


Tony Randall (Fred Miller), Janet Leigh (Vivian Miller), Jim Backus (T.R. Hollister), Roddy McDowall (Nate Ashbury), Richard Dreyfuss (Harold Webster), Kay Cole (Lorrie Miller), Ken Berry (Mel Cheever), Charlotte Raw (Myrtle Ruth), Lou Wagner (Marvin Webster), Gary Tigerman (Tommie Miller), Arnold Stang (Jonah), Lee Meredith (Dr Wells), Bruce Gordon (Admiral Sheridan), Harvey Lembeck (Sonarman), Merv Griffin (Himself)


Fred Miller has designed an underwater house. His boss T.R. Hollister is about to shut the project down when Fred persuades him that he can demonstrate it is viable by having a family – his own – live down there for thirty days. This takes some persuading but Fred’s wife Vivian and teenage daughter Lorrie agree to go and live underwater. Lorrie is part of a band Harold and His Hang-Ups who are on the verge of a big recording contract and so the band members agree to come too. However, life in the habitat is filled with a number of problems from constant leaks and mischievous seals to a seabed gold-mining project of Hollister’s that decide to steal their air pressure to the Navy picking up the sounds of the band on their sonar. Meanwhile, big-time record producer Nate Ashbury is trying to find their whereabouts. Moreover, the band need to return topside in time to make an appearance on The Merv Griffin Show at the same time as a hurricane rages up on the surface.

Jack Arnold (1916-92) was the foremost director among the 1950s Golden Age of Science-Fiction. Arnold first appeared with It Came from Outer Space (1953) and went onto other classics like The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Arnold’s works always stood head and shoulders above the B films of his contemporaries and contained a superb sense of atmosphere and place. In particular, Arnold’s films of the 1950s have a haunting sense running through them of humanity allegorically alienated amidst the landscapes of the Earth.

Hello Down There is seen as a head-scratching oddity that barely gets a mention in most overviews of Arnold’s oeuvre. Arnold’s career in the Golden Age of Science Fiction Films had dried up by the time of his last SF entries Monster on the Campus (1958) and The Space Children (1958). Before that, he has interspersed his SF films with some crime and film noir works. After this point, he switched direction to make the immensely entertaining High School Confidential (1958) and the comedy The Mouse That Roared (1959). For Arnold, the 1960s were marked with Westerns like No Name on the Bullet (1959), a couple of Bob Hope comedies – Bachelor in Paradise (1961), A Global Affair (1964) – and into the 1970s a couple of ventures into the Blaxploitation genre – Black Eye (1974) and Boss Nigger (1974) – and a John Denver Western comedy The Wackiest Train in the West (1976). In these, Arnold seems to be trying on other genres for a fit, or just as equally was simply being a working director taking on whatever was handed him.

Hello Down There was Arnold’s one and only collaboration with Ivan Tors (1916-83). Tors had become a successful tv producer of various nature-related series such as Sea Hunt (1958-60), Flipper (1964-8), Daktari 1966-9) and Gentle Ben (1967-9). (See below for Ivan Tors’ other genre works). The film was shot at the Ivan Tors Studio in Miami, which contained large underwater shooting facilities that had been built for Flipper.

Inside the underwater habitat. With Tony Randall in the submersible in Hello Down There (1969)
Inside the habitat. With Tony Randall in the submersible

Hello Down There came out in the era of unbridled optimism that was the Space Age. During this period, a number of filmmakers were turning away from outer space to in effect inner space – underwater adventures. I remember old magazines articles of the era depicting colonising of the underwater environment in much the same way as works of the era were also predicting that it would only be a matter of years before we had moon cities and the like. This was born out on the screen with works such as tv’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-8), Stingray (1963-4) and films like The Underwater City (1961), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Destination Inner Space (1966) and The Neptune Factor: An Undersea Odyssey (1972).

Hello Down There is born of this Space Age optimism, although it takes the more comedic approach. Rather than adventure works like Flipper or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the nearest equivalent might be the Doris Day Space Age comedy The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), which consisted of a series of light domestic hijinks involving Space Age gadgets at NASA designer Rod Taylor’s home.

Most of the film is set around slapstick sequences – with the seals amok in the habitat; leaks causing panic, including items in the laundry dryer firing out with shotgun pressure; the seabed miners stealing some of the air pressure causing the habitat’s legs to sink and send everyone flying into the moon pool. Indeed, the seals throughout act with the same friendly, quasi-intelligent comic relief that Cheeta does in the Tarzan films. In the latter half of the film, Arnold Stang as the assistant aboard the seabed trawler has no other purpose than to bumble about and engage in slapstick antics. There is also quite a bit of the film given over to the teens and their band, who sing a lot of songs about fish. (The band is led by none other than a teenage Richard Dreyfuss).

The teenagers. With Janet Leigh and Richard Dreyfuss in Hello Down There (1969)
The teenagers. With Janet Leigh (second from right) and Richard Dreyfuss (first on the right)

The film gains a little more drama towards the end with Tony Randall having to save the teens who have crashed after taking the mini-submarine (which he does by getting the dolphins to tow it free) and Ken Berry in a flooding sea-bottom trawler, alongside assorted plots about Roddy McDowall’s record executive determined to find their whereabouts for a record contract and the navy picking up the sounds of the band on the sonar and wheeling into action as they perceive it to be a threat.

Jack Arnold’s other genre films were:- It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monster on the Campus (1958), The Space Children (1958), The Mouse That Roared (1959), as well as the story for The Monolith Monsters (1957).

In genre material, Ivan Tors also made a trilogy of films set around the fictional organisation the Office of Science Investigation with The Magnetic Monster (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954) and Gog (1954). After his success in television, Tors made various other films with Around the World Under the Sea (1966) and Birds Do It (1966). In genre material, Tors had earlier produced the tv series’ Science Fiction Theatre (1955-7), Men into Space (1959) and The Man and the Challenge (1959-60).

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