Mar 4, 2020
On Blu-ray: Jane Russell, Richard Egan, and Gilbert Roland in Underwater! (1954)
When a film title ends in an exclamation point as Underwater! (1954) does, it communicates the expectation of spectacle over substance. This is the best way to approach this Howard Hughes production with marketing featuring Jane Russell in a revealing bikini she never wears onscreen. The newly-remastered film looks great on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive and it offered some unexpected pleasures that added to its appeal.
Jane Russell and Richard Egan star as Theresa and Johnny Gay, a happily married couple who go out to sea with Egan’s partner Dominic Quesada (Gilbert Roland) in search of treasure on sunken vessels. Russell is so hot for hubby that she refuses to let him leave her on shore, but their numbers are evened out by the sharp-witted heiress Gloria (Lori Nelson) who owns the boat they use for their journey.
Johnny and Dominic quickly find what they are looking for, but a ship full of pirates scraping by as fishermen gets wise to their discovery and the men want in on the booty. The tension that follows between these two groups is broken up by extended underwater search scenes, a trip to the beach, a sprightly nightclub outing, and Theresa’s pleas for Johnny to come to bed already.
The pace isn’t always as brisk as a good adventure flick should be. This is partly due to those underwater scenes, which can only be so engaging when you can’t see the expressions on the actor’s faces. When those faces can be appreciated, the action picks up. It also helps that Underwater! is a beautifully photographed film, which can be enjoyed to its full effect on the Warner Blu-ray.
According to actress Lori Nelson, she was originally planned to star, but Russell got the role when she needed to complete a contract requirement. It is a shame, because Nelson shows some spark, but is essentially underused here. Russell also has better chemistry with Roland, who remained handsome and seductive late in his career.
Having gone into Underwater! with little previous knowledge of the film, I was delighted to see the mambo musician Perez Prado and his ensemble prominently featured in a nightclub scene. It was a treat to see this marvelous artist perform in an extended sequence which offered ample time for renditions of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White and Rhythm Sticks. The tune for the former was also used effectively in the film’s soundtrack.
Underwater! isn’t a classic in dire need of revival, but it’s a gorgeous production and the appeal of its stars and soundtrack makes watching it an enjoyable experience.
A trailer for the film is included as a special feature on the disc.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.