The Atomic Submarine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Atomic Submarine
Atomic submarineposter.jpg
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Produced by Alex Gordon
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Story by Irving Block
Jack Rabin
Starring Arthur Franz
Dick Foran
Music by Alexander Laszlo
Cinematography Gilbert Warrenton
Edited by William Austin
Gorham Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation (US)
Warner-Pathé (original, UK)
Release dates
  • November 29, 1959 (1959-11-29) (United States)
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $135,000 (estimated)[1]

The Atomic Submarine is a 1959 independently made American black-and-white science fiction film produced by Alex Gordon, directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, and starring Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, and Brett Halsey, with John Hillard as the voice of the alien. The film was distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.

The story of The Atomic Submarine concerns an alien invasion that begins when an underwater UFO attacks the world's shipping for unknown reasons. The film showcases the (then) new technology of nuclear submarines[2] and follows the crew and scientists aboard the atomic powered USS Tigershark, which has been ordered to hunt down the mysterious underwater saucer and stop its disruption of sea commerce.


A brief prologue describes how in 1909 Robert Peary had trouble reaching the North Pole. The narration postulates that Peary would have been amazed to see how in just a few decades the very same pole had become a major thoroughfare for civilian and military shipping; a futuristic prediction of cargo-carrying atomic submarines follows. One of those submarines is destroyed by a mysterious undersea light. The loss of this and several other cargo ships alarms the world. Governments temporarily close the polar route and convene an emergency meeting at the Pentagon.

Present at the meeting is Commander Dan Wendover (Dick Foran), the Captain of the atomic submarine Tigershark, and Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Ian Hunt (Tom Conway). The United States Secretary of Defense (Jack Mulhil) leads the meeting; he explains all that is known about the disasters in the Arctic and then describes the high-tech capabilities of the Tigershark. These include a special hull and a mini-sub (the Lungfish) that can be stored inside the submarine. The Secretary finishes by telling Wendover that he is to take Hunt, the Tigershark, and her crew to resolve the ship sinkings and, if possible, eliminate their cause.

Lieutenant Commander Richard "Reef" Holloway (Arthur Franz), the Executive Officer of the USSTigershark are then introduced. Also shown is how a submarine gathers its crew on short notice and sets sail. Holloway is told that he will be bunking with the inventor of the Lungfish, Dr. Carl Neilson. At first he is thrilled. Holloway believes that his bunkmate is Dr. Neilson Sr., a scientist he reveres. To his dismay, Holloway learns, instead, that his bunk mate is Dr. Carl Neilson Jr. (Brett Halsey), a pacifistic scientist he dislikes.

The scenes following spotlight the day-to-day life on an atomic submarine. After a time, the Tigershark finally discovers the cause of the disasters: an underwater saucer-shaped craft with a strange light coming from an eye-shaped window located atop and in the center of the saucer's upper dome. One of the Tigershark‍ '​s scientists, Dr. Clifford Kent (Victor Varconi), briefly shows a photo of an Unidentified Flying Object taken from his days as a UFO investigator for the Air Force; investigating such phenomena was his job in those days. Because of that photo and its similarity to this vessel, the submariners began to realize their quarry is an extraterrestrial lifeform. Inspired by that eye-shaped window, the crew nickname the spacecraft "Cyclops".

Commander Wendover orders the submarine's most powerful torpedoes fired at the saucer. They reach the craft but are stopped short by a gel-like extrusion coming from within the saucer; they do not explode. Dismayed by this failure, the captain knows that he must do something to stop the ship sinkings, so he gives the order for the Tigershark to ram the alien spacecraft. The submarine's nose breaks through the lower side of the saucer and becomes trapped there.

Lieutenant Commander Holloway and Dr. Neilson then lead a team aboard the Lungfish and enter the spacecraft. Once inside, Holloway has his crew cut the bow of the Tigershark free with blow-torches. Meanwhile, he explores the saucer's dark hallways and receives his first telepathic message from the spacecraft's sole occupant, an octopus-like creature with a single large eye for a head—a cyclops indeed. In the course of their eyes-to-eye conversation, the alien proves its hostile intent by savagely killing the other members of his team. The creature further proves hostile by announcing that it plans to bring several human specimens back to its home planet for further study. It explains the aliens' evil plan; to modify their own DNA based on what they learn about humans. Once they've adapted themselves to live on our planet, they'll come back and take over the Earth.

Now realizing that he has a lot more to worry about than a few ship sinkings, Holloway attacks the alien by firing a Very pistol into its eye, temporarily blinding it. He then races back to the Lungfish and returns to the Tigershark with Dr. Neilson. The sub breaks away from the saucer. Of necessity they abandon the crewmen who were cutting the bow free; such are the fortunes of war.

Despite the large hole in its underside, the flying saucer sails to the North Pole to recharge its energy in preparation for take-off. Holloway then tells Commander Wendover, "Captain, if that thing ever gets back to where it came from, the Earth and everyone on it is doomed."

The submariners remember that their torpedoes failed when they were fired at the spaceship. They have an emergency meeting where Tigershark's group of scientists develop a plan to install the guidance system of a torpedo into an ICBM, converting it into an improvised ground-to-air missile. Their plan is carried out with the agreement of Commander Wendover and the aid of several crewmen.

When the saucer rises from the ocean and attempts to leave, the Tigershark fires the missile, destroying the saucer and its occupant. Holloway and the young Neilson are reconciled, with the latter realizing that his pacifism was no match for hostile aliens.



Principal photography for The Atomic Submarine took place from mid-June to early July 1959.[3] Stock footage of submarines and ship explosions were interspersed with other shots.[4]

Producer Alex Gordon wanted to hire veteran actors Frank Lackteen and Edmund Cobb as passersby. The studio objected to the $100 salary for each, contending that they were functioning as extras and were only entitled to $20. Wanting these old-timers to get a day's pay, Gordon paid them out of his own pocket. This was the last film for Victor Varconi and Jack Mullhall.


Film historian Paul Meehan considered The Atomic Submarine as "... something of a departure from the usual saucer movie formula."[5] In a later assessment, reviewer David Blakeslee commented"... once you get past the wooden acting, creaky scripts, stilted narration, corny humor, low-budget props and sheer implausibility of The Atomic Submarine's story line, you'll find themes and ideas worth pondering a bit longer than it takes to laugh away at the non-stop unraveling of sci-fi B-movie conventions." Chief among the unusual elements is "... a headier-than-expected socio-political debate between a young principled pacifist and the career military man and WWII veteran sub captain over the merits of war and peace."[4]

Related films[edit]

Two later science fiction films also "starred" nuclear submarines: Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in 1961 and the Japanese film Atragon in 1963. In all three films a high-tech nuclear submarine of the near-future travels to the deepest part of the ocean in order to save the Earth from destruction.

Actor Arthur Franz, who played Lieutenant Commander Holloway in The Atomic Submarine, guest starred five years later on an episode of Irwin Allen's 1964 submarine TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Ineternet Movie Database Box office/Business
  2. ^ The Atomic Submarine at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ "Original print information: The Atomic Submarine." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 11, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Blakeslee, David. " 'The Atomic Submarine' (1959) - #366." Criterion Reflections, June 30, 2011.
  5. ^ Meehan 1998, p. 94.


  • Meehan, Paul. Saucer Movies: A UFOlogical History of the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8108-3573-8.
  • Wingrove, David. Science Fiction Film Source Book. London: Longman Group Limited, 1985. ISBN 978-0-58289-239-2.

External links[edit]