City Beneath the Sea (1971)

While there are no official records to confirm it, it’s pretty obvious after watching City Beneath the Sea that it was the cause of the great jumpsuit shortage of 1971.

The film takes place in one of those movie futures where almost everyone wears monochromatic onesies while puttering around banks of flashing buttons and pretending that repurposed office furniture are some sort of advanced gear specially designed for the rigors of undersea urban life.

The jumpsuits are apparently used to designate rank or job classification with chocolate seemingly one of the most elite (next to the Admiral’s not unexpected white one) since it was modeled by special guest star Robert Wagner. (Perhaps it’s no surprise that the stunningly unflattering mustard yellow is worn by many of the faceless extras.)

The year is 2053 and the United States has dumped tons of resources into building the underwater city of Pacifica. And no man was more responsible for its successful construction than Admiral Michael Matthews. Or should I say former Admiral! Retired from the service and living the life of a prosperous businessman on the surface, Matthews left Pacifica in disgrace following the death of Bill Holmes, one of his best friends. Everyone in the city, especially his widow Lia, blames Matthews for giving the order that caused Bill’s death.

Despite his attempt to put all that behind him, the President comes calling, telling Mike that his country needs him once more! Due to the ongoing tremors and earthquakes threatening the Ft. Knox area, all of our nation’s highly fissionable H128 has to be transported to the new undersea vault being constructed at Pacifica. And only Admiral Matthews has the knowledge of both Pacifica and radioactive junk to oversee the operation.

How tough that can be though? You’re standing around waiting for UPS to deliver your glowing rocks, signing a manifest or two and directing some forklifts to put everything in neat piles, right?

Did you sleep through your high school chemistry class? Any freshman will tell you that if left to its on devices for too long, the H128 will freaking go nuclear all over your daydreaming face! The only thing that can keep it in check is to make sure it’s surrounded by gold! Thus the reason to store it at Pacifica since the gold has already been transported to its vault. And thus the tension to make sure its done without a lot problems.  God, I hope they picked the shipping option that comes with tracking numbers!

Trying to make sure your city full of scientists, military, and civilians doesn’t get vaporized is more than enough to put a sheen of flop sweat on even the most grizzled of commanders, but Mike isn’t back down in the briny depths more than a couple of hours when an accident occurs that almost kills his second in command, Woody! But that’s just another routine workplace whoopsie compared to the armpit stains and deep sea puckering caused by the President’s latest call!

This just in from deep space! Rogue planetoid in system! Collision course with Earth! Area of impact… wait… calculating… double checking figures… that can’t be right! Pacific is ground damn zero! Don’t worry though, this just requires Mike’s brother, chief engineer in charge of building the vault, Brett (Robert Wagner), to update his plans to steal not only all the gold, but the H128, too! Mondays, Admiral. Am I right?

Disaster master Irwin Allen’s failed attempt to launch a TV series, City Beneath the Sea at least doesn’t suffer from its pilot origins as something like Dark Mansions did. While there are story lines that could be followed up on (Mike’s relationship with his friend’s widow, the underwater race that is also working in Pacifica), the film has a definite conclusion where all the major questions are neatly resolved.

While the cast is pretty unremarkable (Stuart Whitman as Admiral Matthews is particularly bland bringing a deadly combination of detachment, immobile facial expressions and gigantic eyebrows to the lead role), more effort looks to have gone into the sets. Allen shoots the futuristic looking city interiors to emphasize how large they are does a decent job of trying to convey a sense of a city humming with activity. Exteriors are handled as you would expect from the era with models that look like something from a Godzilla movie (they were actually from previous Allen productions). They aren’t terribly convincing, but the actual models would be neat to have as a collector’s item.

Fun in a Saturday matinee sort of way with its nonstop crisis and underwater city of the future setting, City Beneath the Sea fills out its jumpsuit in ample fashion for fans of 1970s sci-fi burned out on all the era’s dystopian offerings and longing for a story showing humans doing something not involving destroying everything and murdering each other.

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