Generally crappy--but still watchable--B noir heist programmer. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives vault of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released Raiders from Beneath the Sea, a cheapo 1964 Lippert production released by Fox, directed by Maury Dexter, scripted by Harry Spalding, and starring Ken Scott, Merry Anders, Russ Bender, Booth Colman, and Garth Benton. A few good lines here and there, the impressive sights of Catalina Island and Merry Anders in a bikini, and more than a few unintentionally silly moments make Raiders from Beneath the Sea an acceptable time-killer for fans of cheapjack 60s exploiters. No extras for this so-so full-screen transfer (more about that below).
Scuba diver and former salvager Bill Harper (Ken Scott), bankrupt and mooching dimes off his hot wife, Dottie (Merry Anders), now works rent-free as an apartment house manager...with no salary for the IRS to garnish. His creepy pervert brother, handyman Buddy (Garth Benton), lives there, too, but he's far too busy chasing tail and lusting after Dottie to do much maintenance around the place. Bill, desperate to change his circumstances, comes up with a plan: on the day after Labor Day, scuba to the dock at Catalina Island, walk uptown--in full gear--to rob the island's bank's holiday haul of a cool quarter of a million dollars, walk back to the dock, jump in to the ocean and swim underneath the ferry, attaching the loot to the boat's hull with magnets, all before Johnnie Law knows what's what. There're only a few problems. Troublemaker Purdy (Booth Colman) originally floated this caper to Bill, and now he wants in on the action, while Dottie wants Buddy out after he tries to rape her.
One of those 60s men's adventure magazine stories come life (Sex and Death with the Scuba Diving Bank Robbers!), Raiders from Beneath the Sea certainly doesn't come anywhere near delivering the thrills and action promised in that sweet, sweet one-sheet ("Like Monsters Out of the Deep They Came Ashore...Two Men Out to Seize a Million Dollar Haul!"). There's nothing remotely "monstrous" about Scott's and Benton's characters (we don't even get a shot of them underwater together), nor are they shooting for a million dollar score (apparently, the actual quarter million dollar prize in the movie wasn't enough for the Fox promotional department). However, I would imagine this cheaply-budgeted filler did fulfill its purpose: helping to put some coins, however few, into Fox's coffers during yet another contentious year for the company. Notoriously penurious producer Robert L. Lippert had been with Fox since the mid-50s, when the company's fortunes took its first serious nose-dive, and he had been providing the major with reliably profitable programmers like Raiders from Beneath the Sea for years. By 1964, Fox president Spyros Skouras was out after the twin calamities of Cleopatra and Something's Got to Give, and Darryl Zanuck was back as the company's chairman of the board, with his son Richard acting as president. Production was way down from the company's heyday (with pick-ups dominating the release roster), and a few major films helped keep the creditors at bay (the all-star What a Way to Go!, Zorba the Greek, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte)...along with a lot of lower-budgeted moneymakers: Surf Party, The Day of the Living Corpse, The Horror of Party Beach, Shock Treatment, Witchcraft, The Earth Dies Screaming, Apache Rifles, The Pleasure Seekers.
Certainly, Raiders from Beneath the Sea belongs in the latter category, with a terribly cheap production (the sets are amusingly flimsy, and that "all skate" roller rink music is stunningly inappropriate) and boring TV-style direction from Maury Dexter (Maryjane, The Mini-Skirt Mob, Hell's Belles). Jack-of-all-trades scripter Harry Spalding(Curse of the Fly, Wild on the Beach, One Little Indian, The Watcher in the Woods), though, does create a viable (if completely familiar) noir framework here with the failed diver transitioning into crime with his sexually aggressive brother, organizing a precision heist with a predictable but acceptable fatalistic ending. Spalding even gets in some good lines here and there (when sunbathing Anders asks Scott to hook up her bikini top, he offers, "No way; they'd have me for restraint of trade,"). Thematic and simple mechanical problems, however, abound. The story fails to develop any kind of pervasive triangle between Scott, Anders and Benton (what the hell is "sex antagonism," anyway?), while the goofiness of Dexter's execution is sometimes hilariously inept (the whole frogmen walking down the deserted streets is a classic). Still...that hot-and-cold mixture of promising elements and hopeless maladroitness, along with the impressive sights of mid-60s Catalina Island and Merry Anders stripping to a sleazy beat, does help put Raiders from Beneath the Sea over as watchable dreck.
Why aren't I telling you to skip this disc outright because it's been released full-frame? After all, I've been doing that left and right all week with other releases from Fox's Cinema Archives. Well...because, although it's not ideally formatted, it does look perfectly acceptable cropped with your TV to 1.78:1. The key to this allowance is the fact that the movie wasn't shot in any widescreen format, so matte issues are an extenuating consideration. Is this a deliberate open matte transfer by Fox? Doubt it...but there is a lot of dead information at the top and the bottom of the 1.37:1 image, and when cropped by your TV, the framing is dead-on. Sure the grain is bumped up considerably when you do this, and the image softens, but it does look correct. So...benefit of the doubt given. Overall, the image is a tad dark at times, but otherwise, not bad.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track is re-recorded here at a solid level, with some hiss and little fluctuation. No subtitles or closed-captions available.
Goofy little heist noir. Raiders from Beneath the Sea is worth a look for fans of vintage 60s crime mellers, both for its (very) few pluses and its (very) amusing minuses. If you're a tolerant member of that small group, a rental is best for Raiders from Beneath the Sea.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.