Known as WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP in the US, this period fantasy-sci-fi-horror yarn stars Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, David Tomlinson and John Le Mesurier.
The plot involves Price as the leader of a group of smugglers/seamen living in the sunken remains of a lost city off the coast of Cornwall. This place gets its air via the lost city’s advanced pump machinery that is still working. The race who built the city are now few in number and have devolved into gill men.
Price and his men never age so long as they stay in the ruins beneath the waves, but if they venture to the world above they immediately grow old and die.
Well, this is a movie that pretends to be a Poe film (a poem of his is recited), but the film is really more of a faux Jules Verne yarn with its steampunk diving suits and general decor.
CITY UNDER THE SEA, directed by Jacques Tourneur, looks great, with good scale model work, gorgeous lighting and detailed, nicely art directed sets, featuring bull-headed statues, a giant stone hand and walls covered in Babylonian-style writing and paintings. We get an earthquake at the end too.
However… the plot goes nowhere, with the story becoming simply a series of attempted escapes, involving walking through passages and Price threatening to punish people, even when the local underwater volcano (in Cornwall?!) threatens to destroy everything.
The plot problems can be attributed to the heavy rewriting the script suffered to add humour to it, mainly so that David Tomlinson’s character could be introduced… with his pet chicken (I think the producers wanted to add the chicken because animals had featured in similar movies: there was a duck in JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, a sea lion in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and a poodle in the 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD).
The gill men could have been a big plus for the film, but these aquatic humanoids are not too impressive and seem to have been made from doctored wetsuits.
The underwater chase scene at the end is v-e-r-y slow and plodding too.
With a decent script this could have been so much better, even with the inclusion of Herbert the chicken, but the film remains an enjoyable watch anyway.