WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP, alternate title CITY IN THE SEA, is a movie I probably would have loved if I’d seen it back in 1965. My excuse would have been I was only fifteen. Not really a bad movie, it was full of action, exploding stuff, a volcano, gill-men, and an insane man addressed to as The Captain or King, depending on who happened to be speaking.
According to Wikipedia, it was trying to piggyback off Roger Corman’s series of Poe-inspired films starring Vincent Price. They got Price and they got Poe, sort of. Ostensibly based on Poe’s poem The City in The Sea, it bore little relationship to that poem other than a recitation near the end. A Poe book of short stories/poems, a first edition, is found in the underwater city and the Poem The Volcano is read.
Tab Hunter is Ben Harris, a visiting young man to an estate in Cornwall on a cliff above the coast. Susan Hart is Jill Tregillis, a beautiful young woman that Hunter has the hots for. The comic relief is provided by David Tomlinson as the artist Harold Tufnell-Jones and his pet chicken Herbert(though that may not be a good name as he mentions offhand one time of Herbert laying them an egg). He insists on carrying Herbert around at all times in a small wicker basket. I knew right away that was going to get them in trouble sooner or later.
Late one night, Jill disappears and a suspicious Ben is looking around, finding a clump of wet seaweed before an apparently solid wall. Be and Harold begin looking for a secret passage, Hector of course being the one that pecks the right spot to open it. It leads down to a damp area full of large carved figures and looking down through a hole, they see a group of men chaining another to a tall column. Water starts to pour in, the man warns them away as they try to help him. Rushing away, they head up a staircase, only to come upon a raging water course. The chicken causes a ruckus and Harold, in trying to calm him, gets all three tumbling into the stream.
They awake in a cave on the shores of a pond, shortly to be taken prisoner.
Vincent Price introduces himself and tells them they have come at a bad time. We get pieces of it all through the film, but basically, was a smuggler who was also a peer of the realm, Sir Hugh is the only name we’re ever given, who, when the excise men came after them, fled with his men, twenty of them, down into the tunnels they used, getting lost and soon finding the lost city in the ocean off the Cornwall coast.
No one knows who built it, but The Captain seems to know a lot about it’s history. As the city sank, huge generators were built to power pumps that kept the water out and fresh air supplied. When all this was done, and how, they never get into. The film is set in 1903 so where would the technology have come from? How old is the city?
Another gaping plot hole is that the people slowly died off, the few surviving developing gills over the years and now live in the water. These gill-men are obviously wearing swim fins, dressed up with a bit of hair/fur and in one giant screw-up, a man in modern scuba gear is seen swimming above them. The plot hole is that the Captain and his men have been living in the city for a hundred years. Something about the air, the lack of ultraviolet rays this far underwater, keeping them from aging. If so, why did the original people die off?
Ben and Harold don’t believe them at first.
Another thing they didn’t explore much was the reason Jill was taken. A sketch Harold drew of her and put in a book, that was later taken by the scavenging gill-men, and seen by Price caused him to demand that she be brought to him. She was a double for his late wife, we know from a life size portrait we see briefly. The Captain, in his madness, believes is his late wife returned to him. They don’t go any further than that. But she obviously lived in the house that had once been Sir Hugh’s a hundred years before. Was she a descendant of his late wife? The muddy script would have been helped immensely if a few clues had been dropped in.
I haven’t mentioned the volcano yet. Once dormant, it’s now threatening to erupt and destroy the city. The Captain hopes they know some new, advanced technology that will help. Unfortunately, he estimates they have only a few hours before an eruption. He’s prepared to go down with the city and his returned wife,Ben and Harold are to be offered to the gill-men as a sacrifice, to give them false comfort in the brief time they have left.
There’s also an old man there, Reverend Jonathan Ives(John Le Mesurier), who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, a local that disappeared fifty year before. He knows a way out, finally in a lucid moment revealing it. He can’t go, none of the long time residents either, able to survive only short periods on the surface and only at night. In daylight, they would age rapidly and die.
The three don diving suits, Hector inside Harold’s helmet, and take to the water. The Captain and several of his men don more suits and pursue. The battle underwater, with the gill-men thrown in, is to long and confusing.
As I said, not a bad movie, just not a great one. Those glaring deficiencies were all to apparent to my much older eye and mind than they would have been for a fifteen year old.
For more overlooked goodness, go check out Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.