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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (Blu-ray)
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // September 29, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at ]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 9, 2017 | E-mail the Author
Highly Recommended
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Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), a sponge-fishing yarn starring Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, and Gilbert Roland, was the third movie to be released in CinemaScope, 20th Century-Fox's new widescreen, stereophonic sound process. The studio showed great care rolling out these first releases, eager to gain mass public acceptance and industry-wide support. The Robe, premiering in mid-September 1953, had been a big-scale biblical epic, while How to Marry a Millionaire, debuting in early November, was an all-star romantic comedy, with location scenes film in New York City and upstate. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was shot almost entirely on location, mostly in Key West and Tarpon Springs, Florida, and showed off CinemaScope's versatility underwater.

The strategy worked. The $4 million-plus The Robe was a colossal hit, earning $36 million; the $1.9 million How to Marry a Millionaire earned $8 million, and the $1.6 Beneath the 12-Mile Reef earned more than $7 million worldwide. CinemaScope was here to stay.

For a number of years the picture was thought to be in the public domain, resulting in a lot of panned-and-scanned, monophonic, and incomplete home video and TV versions, though there was a decent laserdisc release at one point. Twilight Time's officially licensed Blu-ray from Fox therefore is something of a revelation. The movie looks great and sounds even better, with Bernard Herrmann's excellent score heard in its original, surround sound glory. The movie ain't bad, either.

Greek-American fisherman Mike Petrakis (Gilbert Roland), his son Tony (Robert Wagner), first mate "Socrates" Houlis (J. Carroll Naish) and the rest of the crew of the Aegli return to port at Tarpon Springs with another disappointing catch of sponges, laboriously picked from the ocean floor in a cumbersome diving suit. They hear tell of a profitable catch off the perilous 12-Mile Reef, but Mike is reluctant to venture there.

Instead, the Aegli sails to Key West, a region unofficially off-limits to Greeks by anti-immigrant fishermen who believe those waters belong to them alone. The catch there is stupendous but two local fishermen, Arnold Dix (Peter Graves) and Griff Rhys (Harry Carey, Jr.), intercept them, threating to cut Mike's air line with an axe. The Rhys Family fishing boat, captained by patriarch Thomas Rhys (Richard Boone) arrives. They take all the sponges before freeing helpless Mike.

Determined to get back their stolen catch, Mike leads the crew to lily-white Key West, where their determination impresses Thomas, and more so his daughter, Gwyneth (Terry Moore), who falls for brash, conceited Tony at first sight, but not jealous Arnold, who's anxious to wed the free-spirited girl.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is a pretty solid adventure-melodrama with an unobtrusive quotient of romance. Apparently Tarpon Springs really is (or was) home to a large Greek-American enclave, and the local color there adds to the film's attractiveness. Mexican-born Gilbert Roland is perfectly acceptable as the larger-than-life Mike, Roland charismatic and athletic though pushing fifty at the time. Conversely, it'd take more than black hair dye and a perm to make Robert Wagner remotely believable as his son. Though he's been fine in many other roles since, Wagner, then just 23, is too much the pretty boy and hopelessly miscast, though he tries hard. The role needed a more seasoned actor, one that audiences could accept as ready and eager to fill Mike's big shoes. Roland's terrific but Wagner is less than acceptable.

Besides Wagner, the movie serves as a good showcase for Terry Moore, Richard Boone, and Peter Graves, all good. It's a bit strange, however, to see relative newcomer Boone cast as the father of Harry Carey Jr., just four years his junior.

As melodrama the picture works. The audience feels for Mike and his crew, whose work looks wildly dangerous with little hope of a big payday, and over the course of the film they suffer numerous indignities and personal tragedy. One of the film's few disappointments other beyond Wagner is its deus ex machina climax, which wraps things up abruptly and a bit too neatly, especially considering the ruthlessness of Peter Graves's character, which borders on psychotic.

Except for some special effects and studio water tank shots, and a bit of rear-projection process work near the very end, virtually the entire picture, including interiors, were shot on location, adding enormously to the verisimilitude, and fascinating to watch today for the way the movie captures early 1950s Florida eateries, harbors, ordinary homes, and the family-run fishing industry then still in existence.

Bernard Herrmann's score is yet another memorable work, his music really benefiting from CinemaScope's 4-track magnetic stereo sound, as it would again in movies like Garden of Evil (especially), King of the Khyber Rifles, and The Egyptian (co-written with Alfred Newman). I was startled to hear one big cue later reused on Lost in Space, whenever a member of the Robinson party flies around in one of those jetpacks.

Video & Audio

Twilight Time's Blu-ray of Beneath the 12-Mile Reef looks great. The earliest CinemaScope releases, in 2.55:1 widescreen, tended to exhibit "CinemaScope mumps" from the first Bausch & Lomb lenses, but that's been fixed, and there appears to be a very modest squeeze on the extreme sides of the frame, noticeable in only a couple of shots. For years many early CinemaScope titles tended to look extremely grainy with washed-out color on TV and home video, but this release has rich hues (lots of great sunrise/sunset shots) and is impressively sharp. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (and accompanying alternative 2.0 DTS-HD MA track) is impressively robust and directional, with much use of the surrounds as well. Optional English subtitles are provided on this region-free disc. This is a limited edition restricted to just 3,000 units, so get yours now.

Extra Features

Supplements include an isolated music track of Bernard Herrmann's music, and an A&E Biography of Robert Wagner is included, in addition to Julie Kirgo's usual liner notes.

Parting Thoughts

Not great cinema but very entertaining and colorful, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef looks and sounds great on Blu-ray and is Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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