Review: Raiders From Beneath the Sea (USA, 1964)

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Name: Raiders From Beneath the Sea
Release Date: 1964

Writers:
Harry Spalding, F. Paul Hall (story)
Director: Maury Dexter

Cast:

Ken Scott: Bill Harper
Merry Anders: Dottie Harper
Russ Bender: Tucker
Booth Colman: Purdy
Garth Benton: Clifford ‘Buddy’ Harper
Bruce Anson: Policeman #1
Walter Maslow : Policeman #2
Stacey Winters: Bank Teller
Ray Dannis: Bowman
Larry Barton: Bank Manager
Roger Creed: Bank Guard

Run Time: 73 mins.
Studio: Associated Producers (API)

Raiders from Beneath the Sea,” is never going to make anyone’s “Best Of” list, but that’s almost beside the point.

The acting is almost laughably wooden. The plot is paper-thin and painfully obvious if you’re paying even a lick of attention. And the ending comes on as if the crew suddenly realized it had 10 minutes of film left and scrambled to wrap things up before the last bit of celluloid went screaming off the reel.

All that’s missing is the gang from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” sitting down front heaping deserving scorn on this justly forgotten film noir thriller from director Maury Dexter, who went on to helm episodes of “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.”

But that’s not say the movie, which centers on a ne’er-do-well named Bill (Scott) who’s been knocked around by life and looking for that one score that’ll put him and his wife (Anders) back on the path to peace and prosperity, is without its charms.

Hatching a hare-brained scheme that does an injustice to hare-brained schemes everywhere, Bill, a onetime diving and salvage guy, enlists the reluctant aid of an old pal, Tucker (Bender), to help him knock over a bank on Santa Catalina Island.

That the pair are living in Long Beach and might find it easier to rob a bank in Long Beach, where it’s easy to escape, instead of difficult-to-escape island does not seem to occur to them. It mostly seems an excuse, in fact, to shoot reams of picture-postcard pretty footage of the southern California island and tourist trap.

This minor-key “Ocean’s Four” is rounded out by Bill’s even more ne’er-do-well of a brother, Buddy (Benton) and the slightly menacing Purdy (Colman).

I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say that the scheme ends in utter failure after a series of hilariously bad mistakes that includes Bill and Tucker thinking that no one will notice two guys in full scuba gear walking the streets of Catalina Island in broad daylight with a big bag of money strapped to their diving belts.

Yet none of this stops “Raiders from Beneath the Sea,” from being a pretty enjoyable way to pass 75 minutes on a snowy Sunday afternoon in January — which are the circumstances under which I viewed it.

This has much to do with the fact that the movie never tries to be anything other than what it is: a cheaply made and quickly produced film noir that takes itself and its characters absolutely seriously.

Were a film like this to be made today, it would probably be made by Quentin Tarantino, and stuffed full of winking and nodding references intended to cater to the ironic sensibilities of its film snob audience.

But there’s something about the amateurishness of “Raiders from Beneath the Sea,” that gives it a kind of energy and purity of intent absent from the ironic tributes that pass for B-movies these days.

From start to finish, “Raiders” is a B-movie through-and-through. There’s plenty of action and moving the plot forward (such as it is) is always the first priority, even if believability and characterization are sacrificed in the process.

There’s the obligatory sex and pretty girl (Anders, who modeled before turning to a modestly successful acting career). And there’s a plot twist at the end worthy of any short-story in “Black Mask” magazine.

And at 73 minutes, the movie says what it has to say and gets it over with — sans sophisticated CGI or even much in the way of a production budget. It gives the audience the entertainment that it wants. And that’s a lesson that Hollywood, increasingly turning out big-budget extravaganzas that feel strangely empty, would be wise to heed.

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This entry was posted in B-Movies, Film Criticism, Film Noir, Noir, Reviews, thriller and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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