"IT WAS FOOLISH, IT WAS INSANE, IT WAS FANTASTIC!"
THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE plays like a war/submarine picture for most of it's first 50 minutes or so until, as one reviewer I read puts it, things go "batshit bonkers" for the rest of the film's running time. Horror and sci-fi fan Alex Gordon produced this odd duck of a film and had a big say in the casting; bringing in favourites from Hollywood's past. Skipper Wendover is played by likeable Dick Foran who appeared in such classic Universal 40's horrors as "THE MUMMY'S HAND "and "THE MUMMY'S TOMB" as well as "HORROR ISLAND". The nominal star of the film, I suppose, would be Arthur Franz (who headlined the Sam Katzman sci-fi horror "MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS") and who, according to his co-star Brett Halsey thought himself deserving of better roles. Speaking of Brett Halsey, after a brief scene in Universal's Black Lagoon sequel "REVENGE OF THE CREATURE" (where he gets gutted), he would go on to appear in such genre classics as "RETURN OF THE FLY" and "TWICE TOLD TALES" (alongside Vincent Price) as well as the best film ever made: "HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS"! Veteran cowboy actor Bob Steele plays the sub's CPO; he starred in countless B-westerns (including "BORDER PHANTOM") as well a the previous year's horror B "GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN". Ubiquitous busty blonde Joi Lansing has only one scene here but she would be all over "HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE" a little later. Then we have to suave, velvet-voiced Tom Conway who, apart from being George Sanders' brother, appeared in such classic Val Lewton films as "CAT PEOPLE", "I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE" and "THE SEVENTH VICTIM". The cast here, as you can see, is pretty top-notch and they do their best with the absolutely dismal screenplay provided by Orville H. Hampton -- who fills their mouths with often-ridiculous dialogue. The direction by Spencer Gordon Bennet is also . . . shall-we-say lackluster? Bennet had little genre experience except for a history of directing serials such as "BATMAN AND ROBIN" (1949) and "ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN". Used to scripts more heavily-loaded with action scenes, Bennet appears to have been flummoxed by the one Hampton provided him. Granted, there isn't much ANYONE can do with the first 50 minutes of a talky, submarine-bound script where all the "action" is provided by the actors flapping their gums. The film is also given a good laugh-factor by the overly-earnest narration which, for example, describes the Tiger Shark leaving the dock as "...what was to prove the strangest, most fearful voyage ever made by a submarine, atomic or otherwise!" Perhaps if one is fearful of dozing off during the lack of on-screen action for nearly an hour!
But having said all this, there is something oddly watchable about this film. The direction is indeed limp but the ridiculous dialogue keeps one entertained. Then there's the repeated shots of the submarine which looks akin to a bathtub wind-up toy. However, when the sub finally encounters the UFO, it almost becomes worth it as the film veers sharply into bizarre territory. The alien of the one googly eye is actually quite wonderful and one of the most memorable of all fifties monsters; it looks like a cross between the tripe-y Octomonster Richard Wordsworth turns into in "THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT", the Xenomorph from "IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE" and an eponymous plant from "DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS". It's actually a puppet built around the arm of effects man Irving Block and looks completely fake yet somehow endearing and it somehow works. I suppose the relative dull visual of an hour filmed inside a dull grey submarine makes the appearance of this bizarre and mental image something for which to leap for joy! There's also the visual of a frogman's face being melted/fried and another dopey frogmen getting sliced in two inside an iris-closing hatchway! As I said before, the actors give it the old college try -- except maybe for Tom Conway who looks generally bemused every time he has to say a line. The veteran actor seems to be attempting to suppress a smirk half the time and the other half he seems to be letting his mind wander; this, of course, may be due to the fact that he had had a stroke only a few years before so his powers of concentration may have been understandably lowered.
So, I can't for a minute say I heartily recommend "THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE"; however, if you're in the proper state of mind, it is quirky enough and paradoxically moves along briskly somehow during these long action-less sequences where people stand around. Perhaps this is due to the fact that every couple minutes someone says something that is just so ridiculous or something happens that is just so odd that one's interest is kept on a light simmer. And it all becomes almost worthwhile when the final 15 minutes or so of the film leaps at your eyeballs with such off-the-wall bonkers-ness! For this crazy, lovable, one-eyed alien waiting for you at the end of the movie, "THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE" might just be worth an eyeballing.