(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on April 19, 2005, also a Tuesday, by the way. Bill Crider wrote an Overlooked Movies post about this one a while back.)
I’ve finished watching the serial UNDERSEA KINGDOM, got through this one pretty quickly.It’s fast-moving, with lots of things happening in every episode, even though some of them don't make much (or any) sense. Some quick impressions:
Most of the cliffhangers are real cheats, so blatant that they bothered even me, and I’m normally pretty forgiving about things like that. The plausibility of the cliffhangers was one reason I was so impressed with ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION.
Ray Corrigan must have been one heck of a good sport to run around for half the serial in what looks like gold-spangled swimming trunks and a goofy helmet with a huge metal fin on it.
If Atlantis is located in a giant dome on the ocean floor, where does all the bright sunlight come from? (I know, I know, I shouldn’t ask questions like that.)
The plucky kid sidekick, played by Lee Van Atta, is actually one of the most competent characters in the story. He saves the day several times.
The plucky girl reporter, played by Lois Wilde, has nothing to do and has zero chemistry with Corrigan, so she’s not even a decent romantic interest.
I’d swear that Monte Blue, who plays the villainous Unga Khan, was hung over for at least half the filming. But John Merton, who usually played a villain, actually plays a good guy in this one (albeit a reformed villain) and does a fine job of it.
Smiley Burnette was an okay Western sidekick – never Gabby Hayes level, of course, but not bad – but he’s totally wasted here and only appears in about three or four episodes. And unless I missed something, it was never explained how he and the other comedy relief, Frankie Marvin, escaped from the villains after they were captured early on.
Lots of good miniature work and special effects by the Lydecker brothers. I’m still shocked by how much the Atlantean flying warship looks like the original Enterprise. I have to wonder if whoever designed the Enterprise back in the Sixties had seen this serial.
There are some really nice battle scenes, too, some on horseback and some when the minions of Unga Khan lay siege to the Sacred City and finally scale the walls on ladders, much like the Mexican army attacking the Alamo. Even though the rival armies seemed to number no more than twenty men on either side, they made it look like a bigger battle. Yeah, the robots were clunky, the tank-like Juggernaut was laughable, and the high-tech weaponry didn’t look believable, but there was so much enthusiasm I was able to suspend my disbelief without too much trouble.
All in all, silly but very enjoyable.