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Captain Nemo and the Underwater City

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Hill
Produced by Steven Pallos
Bertram Ostrer
Written by Pip and Jane Baker
R. Wright Campbell
Starring Robert Ryan
Chuck Connors
Nanette Newman
Bill Fraser
Kenneth Connor
Music by Angela Morley
Cinematography Alan Hume
Edited by Bill Lewthwaite
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
Germany 19 December 1969

US 7 October 1970
Running time
105 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City was a 1969 British film, featuring the character Captain Nemo and inspired by some of the settings of Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It was written by Pip and Jane Baker and starred Robert Ryan as Nemo.[1]

The film was produced on a budget of 1.5 million US Dollars. It had stemmed from an idea that led to Roger Corman’s failed ‘Captain Nemo and the Floating City,’ itself based on a combination of two of Jules Verne’s stories. Though that movie never passed the planning stage, MGM producer Steven Pallos managed to re-create the project having read a series of inspirational articles about Jacques Cousteau’s experiments with deep sea habitats, and the ‘Floating ‘ part of the concept was dropped in favour of ‘Underwater.’

The film drew heavily on the supposed charm of the Victorian era, following agreement between director and scriptwriters to produce a popular escapist atmosphere, more the essence of Michael Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days than of Disney‘s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Changing fashions had rendered the film an anachronism by the time it was released in 1969, almost as though it had been intended for distribution ten years earlier, before the downbeat and socially conscious realism of the Sixties had set the new trend.


The film opens with a mid nineteenth century cargo liner sinking in a storm at sea, in what is presumed to be an Atlantic Gale. As the vessel begins to founder the crew muster the passengers to the lifeboats, one of which capsizes as it is launched, and its passengers are thrown out into the overwhelming seas. Swept below the waves and on the point of drowning, they are rescued by a group of divers who swim up to them to give them air and lead them to the submarine Nautilus.

Once safe aboard they are carried to a magnificent underwater domed city, TempleMir (pronounced Temple-Meer) controlled by Nemo, there to remain ‘for the rest of their natural lives…'

The survivors are made up of the brothers Barnaby and Swallow Bath (Bill Fraser and Kenneth Connor), two gold hunting swindlers who lost a fortune in the shipwreck, along with Lomax (Allan Cuthbertson), a claustrophobic and cowardly Englishman with a knowledge of engineering. There is Helena Beckett, an English widow travelling home with her son, played by Nanette Newman whilst the nominal leader of the group, Senator Robert Fraser (Chuck Connors), is an emissary of the US Government en route to Britain on urgent government business.

The city seems vast, Utopian, and for some reason almost literally paved with gold, as the metal is found in use in utensils, tools, decor...

During their first days, Nemo leads Fraser, the Bath brothers and the Becketts on a tour of the underwater farms of the city. Lomax, claiming claustrophobia, desperately wants to go back to the surface, but declines an offer to join them. This later proves to be only a blind, for during the night Lomax is apprehended attempting to escape by stealing diving gear. At Helena Beckett’s request, Nemo lets him off lightly, a move he comes to regret.

Fraser seems taken with a musical performance given by the city's swimming teacher Mala (Luciana Paluzzi), an able diver who fended off a shark with a knife during the tour of the farm. His attention is noted by Joab, Nemo’s second in command (John Turner).

Less interested in the rendition, the Bath brothers are led on a visit to the life support control room by Joab, to see the machine that produces Oxygen and fresh water for the city. As a by-product the process also produces gold, rather than acquiring it by piracy as Barnaby first suspects; as such, gold is basically worthless and is only used for decoration, small parts or as a non-corroding plating material. Noting their response to this, Joab suggests they might be interested in a tour of the city's scrap yard, a chamber piled high with off-cuts and broken parts made of or plated with gold, but this only makes thieves despondent, for as Barnaby comes to admit, ‘its hard to give up all of life’s values at once…‘ But their discovery does make the thieves determined to escape with as much gold as possible. Joab advises them that no-one has ever escaped Templemir.

Almost immediately the brothers meet with Lomax in the city tavern,and talk over a beer ('made out of seaweed...?). Having also toured life support, Lomax sees the oxygen machine as a means to escape; it has a working pressure of 30 000 PSI which could ‘blow a hole in a sheet of iron,‘ and almost certainly the dome roof. He attempts to enlist the help of the brothers in his scheme, only to accuse them of being willing to betray him when Barnaby asks him to explain his plans to them. Perhaps wisely distrusting Lomax, Barnaby replies that they might well betray him, and that he would be better going it alone. As he later explains to Swallow, ‘getting out of here is going to take a very cool head, and that one’s nearly lost his already...’

His prediction comes rapidly true, for Lomax attempts escape by sabotaging the key life support system to over pressurize the dome which would cause the city to be destroyed. However this results only in the machine’s control room being flooded with himself inside; Nemo responds to the danger by sealing off the room to save the city, leaving Lomax to drown.

Though the city is safe it is seriously damaged. In the confusion following Lomax’s escape, the Bath brothers are able to sneak into the Forbidden Area, normally guarded and off limits. Inside they discover a second, much larger submarine, the Nautilus II, clearly more powerful than the first, and almost certainly faster. It is plain to Barnaby that if they follow through with their attempt to leave Templemer, they will have to steal this submarine.

It is equally plain that they will not be trusted by either Nemo or by Joab. Instead, they approach Fraser, and tell him they have found a means of leaving the city, despite the fact that they 'don't know how to drive the thing.' Learning this Fraser with a little persuasion, convinces Nemo to teach him how to control the Nautilus. During a training cruise, he is at the helm when Nautilus encounters an old enemy, Mobula, a vast Manta Ray-like creature accidentally created during the building of the city (Though not specifically stated, mutation following a nuclear explosion is inferred).

Mobula attacks the Nautilus, and after a brief battle is killed by the submarine's front ram.

Fraser approaches Nemo with a request that he should be allowed to leave Templemir. His reason is an honest one; his mission was to cut off the supply of weapons supplied by European arms manufacturers to either side in the recently declared American Civil War, and so prevent a much greater conflict, a holocaust. Fearful for his people, his city, and the possibility of his inventions falling into hostile hands, Nemo can only refuse. He counters by offering Fraser a place in Templemir's future, an enclosed undersea Metropolis of several such cities.

In doing so he alienates a jealous Joab, who is already aware of Mala's attraction to Fraser and easily persuaded to help Fraser and the Baths steal Nautilus II, on condition they leave without bloodshed, and allow the crew to return with the submarine intact.

The escape takes place during the All Seas Day celebration on the anniversary of Templemir's completion. As the Bath brothers hold the crew of the Nautilus II at spear-gun point, Frazer manages to flood the berth and take the submarine to sea, ramming the defensive sea gate in the process. Nemo, leading a shaken Joab and with Mala and the Beckett family in tow attempts to pursue them in the Nautilus I. It is then that he reveals to Joab that there is a fault in the engines of Nautilus II, and that the escapers are in danger of being blown up. Joab is shocked, as he had no knowledge of the fault. Nemo replies, 'how could you, I only heard it this morning.'

The chase is brief. Unable to match the speed of the escaping submarine, Nemo has Nautilus I sheer away, to try 'going under the reef.' Confused by their pursuers apparently giving up, Frazer asks the Nautilus II's first mate if there is 'a shorter way,' to be told that 'yes, there is,' but that 'this ship is too large!'

A now desperate Fraser gives orders for 'crash speed.' As the submarine increases to flank an explosion causes the engines to fail, and out of control the ship strikes a reef before coming to a stop whilst still submerged. The crew with Frazer and the Baths put on diving gear and attempt to escape from the now flooding submarine, but Barnaby panics and drowns in the attempt.

Nautilus I approaches the wreck just in time to be buffeted violently as the bigger ship explodes; Joab is electrocuted as he is thrown against a control panel. Mortally wounded he confesses to Nemo that he helped Fraser to escape. Helena Beckett admits that she knew of the attempt, and that she and her son chose to stay. Mala reads Nemo a letter that Fraser left behind, in which he thanks Nemo for offering him a place in the city's future, but that he cannot accept, as he believes in his mission, and the 'slower, more painful process' towards peace.

The film closes as Nautilus turns towards Templemir. On the surface, a small schooner is seen picking up two men in mid-ocean, far from either land or any sign of wreckage. Frazer and Swallow Bath, huddled in blankets, are made welcome aboard, and as the schooner prepares to set sail, Frazer finds his companion has concealed a gold ladle under his coat. The two exchange rueful smiles, and Frazer tosses it lightly into the sea.


  1. ^ Variety film review; 17 December 1969, page 24.

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