Not to be confused with:

  • City Beneath the Sea (Irwin Allen, 1971)
  • City in the Sea (aka War Gods of the Deep) (Jacques Tourneur, 1965)
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Irwin Allen, 1961)
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (TV series created by Irwin Allen, 1964-1968)
  • City That Never Sleeps (John H. Auer, 1953) – also starring Mala Powers!
  • The Cruel Sea (Charles Frend, 1953)
  • The Unchanging Sea (D.W. Griffith, 1910)

Unlike many similarly-named adventure movies, this 1953 Budd Boetticher-directed adventure movie is largely free of any mystical overtones – at least, until the end. (Even then, it’s not explicit.) No, this is nine tenths a macho diving and treasure-hunting story in which Robert Ryan and Anthony Quinn, pals in a freelance salvage outfit, are hired by wealthy Karel Stepanek to locate a sunken ship containing a million dollars in gold bullion. Both are given to drinking, chasing women, and getting into bar brawls, but Quinn plays the one more likely to have his hand caught in the till, and that’s part of the reason the drama gets whipped into a froth.

The pro forma story could easily have been refitted as a western or a space opera, with only cosmetic alterations. The script is credited to two writers, neither of whom seemed to have been in their prime in 1953. I make the suggestion that the script was rescued from a long unopened file drawer.

The high point of this likable film is not the diving sequences, which take too long and seem to have been filmed entirely using the same lighting setup, in the studio pool, but a terrific bar fight at about the halfway mark. Drinks and fists and tiki torches fly in every direction. Lots of cutaways to different spectators, like the owner, cowering behind a chair, and the pianist, not looking particularly interested in the outcome.

As I see many films by the same director, I’m reluctant to look for consistent themes, because I don’t think the activity is conducive to promoting auteurism as I practice it. City Beneath the Sea lacks some of the moral and spatial geometry that Boetticher would come to practice in his more universally-celebrated westerns. But it has more in common with his lifelong obsession with bullfighting than an early joke on the subject. Many of Boetticher’s movies, from Behind Locked Doors to The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, portray their heroes not simply getting into predicaments at the climactic moments, but living their day-to-day lives getting into scrapes and behaving dismissively at the suggestion that their lives may be at risk. Ungainly as the metaphor may be, it’s not hard to apply the image of the bullfighter, eternally dancing around the charging bull, to the heroes of many of his non-bullfighting-themed films, including this one.