Making the Grades
Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) has been hailed as both a genius and a lunatic. Without a doubt his development of an atomically powered submarine, the USOS Seaview, is a high-tech feat. But his disregard for authority from the military and scientific community has made many question the method of his madness.
Regardless of popular opinion, Nelson sets out to prove the seaworthiness of his invention. Also on board are Congressman Llewellyn Parker (Howard McNear), Vice-Admiral B.J. Crawford (John Litel), and psychiatrist Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), assigned to observe the mission and ensure it meets the country’s political ambitions, and keeps safe the vessel and the crew.
However their voyage changes direction after the Seaview surfaces amidst the arctic ice and discovers the Earth has faced a major catastrophe during the few days they have been under water and outside of radio contact. Somehow the Van Allen Belts, high above the planet’s atmosphere, have caught fire and are heating up the entire globe.
Putting his brain and slide rule to the task, Nelson determines the solution to the crisis is shooting an atomic missile into the flaming rings, from a precise location at an exact time. Steering the sub to New York, he presents his plan to the decision makers conferring at the United Nations. But not all of the experts at the gathering agree with his conclusion. They prefer the theory that the problem will reach a critical temperature and burn itself out at a date and time just after the one Nelson has calculated. Not willing to wait and see if his opponents are correct, Nelson heads back to his vessel and sets sail, hoping to make it to the Marianas Trench in the sixteen scant days he has left before the deadline.
Although Nelson has always enjoyed great loyalty from his crew, some under his command now start to question his sanity, especially when they realize he has begun this quest without securing political approval. Among those pulled in opposite directions are Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) acting captain of the Seaview, and Lt. Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden) who is Nelson’s personal secretary—but also Captain Crain’s fiancé.
And internal rough waters are not the only challenges plaguing the journey. Communication blackouts, battles with sea creatures, an explosive minefield, mental breakdowns that lead to fights and a suicide, as well as having a religious fatalist and a saboteur on board, combine to make this a perilous Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Despite featuring the latest in technology that 1961 could boast, this deep-sea tale often ignores long accepted science. The film is also suffers from some dated gender stereotyping, cigar smoking and attitudes about atomic power. Yet for those willing to overlook such flaws, this classic may still offer plenty of adventure and a time-capsule-glimpse of a world just stepping into the technology revolution.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
The Van Allen Belts were discovered in 1958. And the first Transatlantic telephone cable was laid in 1956. This movie was made just a few years later, in 1961. How does the inclusion of these events give the movie a sense of being on the cutting edge of technology? Despite such high-tech depictions, what scientific principles are blatantly ignored? (For instance, does ice float or sink?)
How are atomic energy and nuclear power depicted in this film that was made in the Cold War era?
How has technology changed over the years? Do you know what a slide rule is? What impact would today’s discoveries have on such things as communications and the time it takes to travel?
Learn more about the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Earth’s oceans.
Teen idol Frankie Avalon stars in this movie (he plays trumpet in one scene) and sings the theme song.