With a shooting schedule of six days (!), THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1959) is a low budget '50s science fiction whose title and poster art promise much more than the actual film delivers. I watched this one yesterday with my buddy Kelly Greene. We'd watched a bad transfer of the film on VHS years ago so it was a treat to see a really sharp looking print of the film presented on, of all things, the Criterion Collection label (it's part of a four film box set, MONSTERS AND MADMEN which includes FIRST MAN INTO SPACE, THE HAUNTED STRANGLER and CORRIDORS OF BLOOD).
The story is routine. An underwater alien saucer is wreaking havoc within the Arctic Circle, attacking and sinking ships at random. The submarine Tigershark is sent to investigate. They encounter the saucer and the cyclopean alien within and (spoiler warning) destroy the saucer.
The characters are as generic as the story. Some tension is evoked between Lt. Commander Richard "Reef" Holloway (Arthur Franz) and Dr. Carl Neilson (Brett Halsey), as Reef is a by-the-book military officer while Carl is a pacifist who doesn't believe in war. Franz acts pissed off throughout the entire film, regardless of whether the script calls for him to be or not. And Tom Conway, who plays a scientist aboard the sub, actually looks like he's forgotten his lines in a couple of shots as he just stands and watches the action.
What action there is to watch consists of stock footage of real subs and the same special effects shots used over and over. The submarine fx footage was shot "dry for wet" with a miniature sub model and as such, it's not bad looking but overuse exposes the budgetary constraints the filmmakers were working with. The other "action" is men sitting or standing around amazingly spacious submarine sets drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking. The sets don't resemble any other movie submarines I've ever seen. There's no periscope (!) and director Spencer Gordon Bennet frames every shot with way too much head room.
Providing little comic relief is cast member Sid Melton. Years ago, on my first trip to Las Vegas, my buddies and I were waiting for our plane to depart from the airport when Sid walked by carrying his luggage. No one in the airport recognized him except for my friend Terry Porter who pointed and loudly proclaimed "Sid Melton!" It was a moment of pure joy.
Produced by Alex Gordon, THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE isn't a terrible movie and it's certainly worth seeing at least once if you're a fan of '50s sf films. Just don't expect a minor classic, some overlooked diamond in the rough. It's more rough than diamond.