In normal circumstances, a film directed by the legendary Jacques Tourneur, starring the horror titan Vincent Price and based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe would be something I lapped up.

But City Under The Sea somehow succeeds in disappointing – a film that is substantially less than the sum of its parts if you will.

That is all the more surprising when you throw in the fact the film also features a race of gill-men, as well as copious amounts of underwater chases.

But the truth is, for long swathes of the running time the flick is quite simply boring.

Set in 1903, things get off to a decent start when a body is washed up on the Cornish coast, leading to hero Ben (Tab Hunter) poking around to try and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Ben also has his eye on the attractive Jill (Susan Hart) and links up with her friend, eccentric artist Harold (played by David Tomlinson) to try and unravel the saga.

Things though take a bizarre turn when Jill is kidnapped by one of the abovementioned gill-men, with Ben and Harold giving chase.

Trouble is though, their chase takes them through a whirlpool that transports them to a mysterious underwater kingdom, overseen by the somewhat tyrannical Captain (Price).1965_CityUnderTheSea

So far, so good, but when the heroes emerge in the titular City the whole thing comes to a grinding halt, with endless talky scenes that diminish the tension.

Turns out Price and his gang are smugglers from back in the day, who ended up in the city and have not aged a day since (due to the lack of UV rays so the film tells us).

Wouldn’t you know, Jill turns out to be the spitting image of the Captain’s wife Beatrice, hence he had her kidnapped and brought beneath the waves.

Will Ben and Harold find a way to rescue Jill and return to life on land?

That’s what the rest of the film tries to get us excited about, but when you have a wooden lead in the shape of Hunter, a frankly annoying ‘comedy’ sidekick in Tomlinson (complete with his pet chicken – yep, you read right – a pet chicken) and a slack pace it is easy to lose interest.

Price, as always, delivers the goods, but he is surrounded by either dodgy performances or missed opportunities – even Dad’s Army star John Le Mesurier pops up in an underwritten role as the city’s priest.

It is hard to believe that this is directed by the same man who helmed the likes of Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, but this was very much in the latter stages of Tourneur’s career.

Another misfire is the ridiculous amount of footage devoted to an underwater chase near the film’s climax.

In principle it sounds great, but when the footage consists of shots of the escaping heroes, then cut to the chasing pack, then back to the heroes and so on, with no sense of urgency or of the chasers closing the gap at all it is all pretty pointless.

Tourneur then elects to throw in numerous close-ups of Price, Hunter etc in their diving gear – which clearly shows they are not underwater.

To top it off, the gill-men then turn up, only to look like rejects from a remake of Creature From The Black Lagoon.

City Under The Sea is far from a total waste of time – heck, I sat through it rather than turning it off, and when Price is on screen there is always something to enjoy.

But it is nigh impossible to watch the film in its entirety without thinking this should have been a whole lot better.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.