Hello Down There

Blow every tube in that crazy brain machine
Released:
1969

Director: Jack Arnold, Ricou Browning

Starring: Tony Randall, Janet Leigh, Jim Backus, Roddy McDowall, Richard Dreyfuss

The Setup:

Tony Randall's family, the children of which form a band, live in an underwater house and face sharks and espionage while the band tries to score a slot on the Merv Griffin show. Or, as this film's tagline states it, "A combo of scuba dupes rock up a storm in a mad pad under the surf!"

Discussion:

This was reviewed in one of the Onion AV Club's "Films that time forgot," and the way they described it immediately placed it at the top of my rental list. Re-reading the piece after the film, I am amazed that they were able to so succinctly hit the high points, as this movie is spread so far over the map it virtually defies any attempt to describe it fully.

It seems that Tony Randall has designed an underwater house in an attempt to avert global overpopulation. Through a series of idiotic circumstances he commits his entire family to live there for a month. The kids in the family (and the daughter's boyfriend) are in a Josie and the Pussycats-type band who are trying to "find the sound" and get a record contract. They face many tribulations on the sea floor while another employee of Jim Backus, Randall's boss, has a competing undersea thingy that is supposed to suck up all the gold laying around on the sea floor. The family faces many tribulations, but ultimately the kids get their smash song, entitled "Glub," on the Merv Griffin show, just as the Navy's full battalion invades. The end.

Even that description leaves out just how head-shakingly bizarre this movie is. Why? Why was this made? Why was it even thought of? It's impossible to discern. But it appeals to that kids sense of "Wouldn't it be cool to live in an underwater house? And be best friends with dolphins and seals?"

This movie is so fragmented it's difficult to write about.

Let's start with the band. The band features a young Richard Dreyfuss on guitar, who, when contemplating his recorded debut, says "Oh man! Man, I want you to blow every tube in that crazy brain machine!" The band, who also features a monkey-like drummer, has hits including "Little Goldfish" and "Glub," and also provide backup for a song that Tony Randall has the misfortune to sing. For the most part, the aquatic wildlife approves of the teens' sound, with the dolphins waving in approval, sea turtles swaying to the groove, and even eels and manatees being seduced by the shitty pop sound. By contrast, when Tony Randall sings, we are to understand that he is terrible by the seal covering its nose, and the dolphins swimming away, though there is no way to understand, from the music itself, how he is any worse than the kids. The kids' demo tape, which they have transported unharmed to the surface in an unsealed plastic bag, reached the ears of music producer Roddy McDowall, who has developed a computer program to predict future hits, and who becomes, as we are told later, "stoned on these shouters." Later, when it seems that the combo will miss their debut on the Merv Griffin show, Dreyfuss speculates that the kids could steal the submarine, pilot it to the shore, surface, make it to the studio, set up their instruments, perform their song, drive back to the sub, pilot it back to the underwater house, and be "back in two hours."

This film also teaches a valuable lesson to young female viewers that a good wife always sacrifices herself for her husband, no matter what the cost. Tony Randall introduces his modern kitchen, replete with cookbooks and ultra-modern dishwashers, etc., as "the answer to every maiden's prayer." Then follow numerous occasions in which his wife, played by a bleached-blond Janet Leigh, goes against her own wishes and instincts of survival in order to place herself second to her husband's career. Even when faced with the prospect of dying a cold and clammy death at the bottom of the ocean as a hurricane rages overhead, she says "No old hurricane is going to wreck my husband's career!" I know this movie is a product of its time, but the extent to which it goes overboard to demonstrate to impressionable young girls that they come in a solid second when compared to a man is quite remarkable. Take heed girls: you don't matter.

Why is Tony Randall dressed as Robin?

And then there's the sea life. This is one of those movies [like Orca] that try to portray trained dolphin behavior like doing flips, "walking" backward across the surface, waving a flipper, etc., as the natural ways in which dolphins try to communicate. I mean-do they think no one in their audience has ever been to Sea World? Any aquarium anywhere? My favorite is when the dolphin sees the competitive undersea explorer sabotaging Randall's aqua-home and shakes its head, saying [in dolphin-squawk] "Uh-uh! Uh-uh!" This is one of those movies that charmingly places a fishtank just outside the window, and assumes it'll pass for the ocean, which means that the same fish are hanging out, virtually motionless, just outside the window at all times. There is included here the rather remarkable sight of a shark swimming with this cloud of yellow dye streaming out of its gills. Okay, whatever.

Some of the things in this movie are just so incredibly STUPID that you sit staring at the screen in wonder. For example, when Dreyfuss steals the submarine and tries to pilot it to shore [for the band's 2-hour trip to the Merv Griffin show and back], he starts smashing into coral. Then he surfaces, but the hurricane is going on up there. So he dives again, and comes down to hit the exact same piece of coral!

There is also the whole bit about the hurricane raging overhead. This is intercut with a Navy battleship tracking the sound of the band's playing, apparently in the same area, except that the weather where they are is clear and calm! There are at least three separate scenes that establish that the sound they're picking up is that of the band's playing, and how they're amazed when the sound stops. Naturally they assume it's some kind of secret weapon the communists have developed. So they mobilize the entire Navy battlefleet to neutralize the threat.

SPOILER>>> AND IF YOU'RE GOING TO WATCH THE MOVIE, YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T READ THIS>>>>

So after the kids are able to perform on Merv Griffin from their undersea home, we see the Navy preparing its invasion. There are battleships, jets, scuba divers and parachutists being deployed, all heading down to the underwater home. Then the movie ends. JUST ENDS. You build up, build up, build up to the invasion, thinking this is going to be the big madcap climax, and then you cut to a cartoon and the credits start rolling. By now you have really come to expect anything to happen, and this really just adds the final dollop of icing to the cake. Plus a sense of relief that, madcap as it may have been, it's over.

<<<SPOILERS END

I know my tone has been a little bit wearied in writing about this, but it is actually kind of fun and somewhat worth seeing, especially if you like the tone of those 60s and 70s live-action Disney movies. It is just so, so strange. I laughed huge belly laughs a few times. I stared in wonder. I found myself beginning to enjoy the songs. But then I was also sort of glad when it ended, and glad I never have to watch it again.

THIS JUST IN!

Amazingly, it turns out that the director of this movie also directed Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man! AND the co-director, Ricou Browning, PLAYED the Creature from the Black Lagoon [in the underwater sequences]! Does it make this movie more worth seeing? Not really, but it's interesting.

Should you watch it?

Can't hurt, unless you're an impressionable young girl.

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