Archive for August 5, 2020

The Undersea Adventures of Craig McKenzie

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2020 by dcairns

As a kid I saw various undersea scifi movies, all terrible I think, but I never saw LATITUDE ZERO, alas. I think I would have dug it. It’s a lot more than terrible. There was one really boring one with lots of enlarged fish which we walked out of at the Odeon, Clerk Street — I’m idly curious as to what it was, but all I remember is the fish.

Then there’s one I saw the end of on TV that has a collapsing belltower underwater, and a long shot of a spoon, I think, dropped into the water and going down, down, down… I’d be grateful for any info you can give me about the title. (OK, YouTube to the rescue — the belltower seems to be from CITY BENEATH THE SEA of 1953, which has Robert Ryan but no spoon, so that’s a different movie. The spoon was a ladle on a wire, and it appears in CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY, also with Robert Ryan.)

Also on the big screen we saw THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO, a jumped-up TV movie, which as kids we found entertaining enough (Nemo is José Ferrer this time. He issues his 20th-century guests with puffy pirate shirts which they pronounce to be INCREDIBLY COMFORTABLE and that’s all I remember. I was thrilled by the idea of the amazing Nemo chemise. I mean, these guys were on a Victorian submarine with laser cannons and everything, but the shirts were so comfortable that’s what amazed them.)

Joseph Cotten in LATITUDE ZERO is Nemo too, in a slashed-to-the-waist shirt, but they don’t call him that, they call him Craig McKenzie (which they pronounce “Cregg” because they’re Americans and Japanese). He’s a Scottish submariner from the nineteenth century who pilots a Nautilus-type sub with laser cannons and lives in an undersea kingdom or domed city if you will. With constant harpsichord muzak, or is it the score?

This is probably Cotten’s only Japanese fantasy film based on a radio series. He’s allowed one.

It’s not that Cotten, and Cesar “Butch” Romero and Patricia Medina have forgotten how to act, I think, more that Godzilla man Ishirô Honda, the director, isn’t able to give them much sense of what he wants. So the prevailing dramatic note is “Will this do?” Richard Jaeckel is enthusiastic, though.

Linda Haynes hasn’t learned yet how to act yet — she’d become an interesting naturalistic low-key player by the time of THE NICKEL RIDE, but at this point she just seems profoundly depressed in her skimpy plastic clothes. She’s meant to be the medical officer but dresses like a dystopian showgirl. She talks carefully, like a drunkard. She has a way of exiting frame, when tasked with an important mission, that signals unambiguously her intent to walk two paces until out of shot and then pause like a mannequin until “Cut!” is called. It’s a very textured performance, is what I’m saying.

Romero and Medina slosh back cocktails for the whole movie. “They must just be permanently pissed,” mused Fiona. I do like the idea of supervillains whose sole motivation is inebriation. There might be a show in that. How else to explain Butch grafting condor wings onto a slumbering lion? It’s the sort of thing we’ve all done, of course, and regretted in the morning.

Godzilla effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya handles the dinky model work, and lays on a super underwater volcano that bursts to the surface in varihued splendour.

Now, look here. Akira Kurosawa considered Ishirô Honda a trusted colleague. The man helmed numerous entertaining fantasies. So we can’t dismiss him. But neither can we consider him to be any damn good. He can cut together various unconvincing special effects to make a coherent, if ludicrous sequence. But he can’t film people getting out of chairs. Not without discombobulating angle shifts. And I know he didn’t design the sets and costumes here but he apparently was content to film them, which does not redound to his credit.

Favourite exchange: when Romero threatens to dissect a scientist’s brain in order to extract his memories, the prof gasps, “That’s impossible!”

Not for me,” says Romero, with some grandeur. Romero, it must be admitted, knows how to do this shit.

Later, having transplanted his sub captain’s brain into the winged lion, he will ask: “Kuroiga was a fool as a woman, is she also a fool as a griffin?” As damning an inquiry as any I can recall.

Cotten and Butch, left to their own devices by a director focussed on — what, exactly? No man can say! — take diametrically opposed approaches. Cotten takes it all VERY seriously, allowing no trace of camp — looks as if he’s reviewing Salaambo — whereas Cesar R. is high camp throughout, and even gives it a kind of wit. Well, BATMAN is very much relevant experience here, and CITIZEN KANE isn’t.

LATITUDE ZERO contains jetpacks, gold lamé swimwear, a flying lion, bat people, holograms, finger-lasers, brain surgery, tiny flame throwers, a bathysphere, a bath of invulnerability, unwearable costumes, a rockslide, gratuitous trampolining, rodents of unusual size, sliding doors, balconies, a submersible model car; crumbling to dust, skeletons, glass paintings, deadly glitter, explosions, corridors, blinking lights…

The phony lion/flying flunky creates an OZ vibe — Butch’s CCTV screens the equivalent of Margaret Hamilton’s crustal-gazing — confirmed at the end when everyone tries to convince Richard Jaeckel that it was all a dream. “But you were there, and you, and YOU!”

Jaeckel inspects the dailies with dismay.

LATITUDE ZERO stars Hideto Ogata; Jed Leland; Duke Santos; Sheriff Kip McKinney; Betty Thaxter; Golf caddie (uncredited); and Godzilla.