you go down in deep water, you’re scared. You don’t know how scared you can be.
Soon, you forget. But the reef never forgets. It just waits.”—Gilbert Roland as
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” released in a limited edition
(3,000 copies) Blu-ray by Twilight Time, is either the second or third movie
ever made in Cinemascope. “The Robe” was the first, and “How to Marry a
Millionaire” was in production at the same time as “Reef” so there’s some
dispute about the release chronology. Basically “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” is
Romeo and Juliet set in the sponge-diving world around Tarpon Springs, Fla.
with a young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore as the “sponge-crossed” couple.
Wagner plays Tony Petrakis, son of Mike (Gilbert Roland), one of the best Greek
sponge divers in the business. Moore plays Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Thomas
Rhys (Richard Boone) the leader of the Conches, the Anglo “hook boat” sponge
fishermen. According to the script by A.I. Bezzerides, there’s no love lost
between the two factions. Greeks stay out in the deep water, the Conches fish
in the shallow waters of the Everglades.
Times are tough for the Greeks, however. The sponges are
disappearing. And Mike owes money to a loan shark who threatens to take his
boat. Mike and his family have two choices. They can go out to the 12-Mile Reef
where Mike already lost one of his sons or they can try moving into the Everglades—
Conch territory. They try the Everglades and do okay until Conch Arnold Dix
(Peter Graves) shows up with some buddies, threatens to cut Mike’s air hose and
grabs their sponge haul. When Mike gets back to Tarpon Springs he looks the
Conches up at their favorite watering haul to settle the score. There Mike
meets Rhys and Dix but violence is prevented when cops show up. Meanwhile,
young Tony and Gwyneth catch love at first sight and run off together while the
grownups are arguing. Wagner, complete with hair dyed black and permed to make
him look Greek, plays Tony as the young stud trying to get out from under the
shadow of his macho father, who calls him “Little Tony.” Moore plays a goofy
girl gaga over handsome Tony, even though Dix thinks he’s her boyfriend.
“Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” has plenty of plot
complications, which only get worse when Mike decides his only recourse is to
dive the 12-Mile Reef. On the way out to the reef, Roland, in one of his best
performances as a tough but tender-hearted macho man, gives the speech quoted
above, telling Tony he can’t let him dive because it’s too dangerous.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away. It’s
a very simple story with very broad characters, and admittedly has a totally
unbelievable ending. I’ve read a lot of nasty reviews of the film that dismiss it
as shallow melodrama with some critics, even faulting screenwriter Bezzerides
for inventing the sociological issues posed by the conflict between the Greeks
and the Conches. But who cares about that?
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” on Blu-ray is an exceptionally
entertaining movie for several reasons. First is the on-location Cinemascope
photography shot around Tarpon Springs and Key West by Edward Cronjager. Director
Robert D. Webb uses Cronjager’s camera to capture a lot of the local color and
some of the culture of the Greek divers. I’ve been to Tarpon Springs and it
doesn’t look much different today. The underwater scenes are spectacular. Second
is a near-perfect music score by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. Bernie
outdoes himself with this soundtrack, providing a truly sensory experience that
makes you feel your down in the water with the divers. Third, is the presence
of two great actors in the cast. Roland and Boone provide the anchor for this
film, giving it a weight its two fledgling co-stars simply didn’t have. Enough
cannot be said about Roland, who never fails to give his characters a sense of
“stature” as he so eloquently put it in “The Lady and the Bullfighter.” Boone as
Rhys has the authority needed to play a man who all the Conches look up to.
The fourth thing that makes “Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” so
entertaining (and I may never be asked to write another review for Cinema Retro
for saying this) is that it includes an underwater octopus fight scene. I’m not
giving anything away here. The poster for the movie shows Robert Wagner
battling the eight-tentacled menace. I have to admit I’m a sucker for any movie
that includes an underwater octopus fight scene. There have been quite a few
movies featuring a fight with a giant octopus in case you weren’t aware of it.
Who can forget Johnny Weissmuller battling one off the diving cliffs of
Acapulco in “Tarzan and the Mermaids?” And what about Buster Crabbe battling
the Octo-Sac in the “Flash Gordon” serial? Of course we must not forget “20,000
Leagues Under the Sea,” where Kirk Douglas fought off a giant squid attacking
the Nautilus (squids count). And I bet you didn’t know that even Humphrey
Bogart found himself in an octopus’s garden in “Isle of Fury,” a potboiler set
in the South Seas. That’s right. Bogie battled an octopus. (Click here to read
more about it.) The octopus fight in
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” has more creepy atmosphere (thanks to Herrmann’s music)
than action, but it qualifies.
Twilight Times’ limited edition Blu-ray is a gem. The
1080p High Definition /2.55:1 is practically flawless, rich in detail and color
(color by Technicolor). The audio is 5.1 Dolby, and the old four-track
recording system used in those days provides an ambient, highly-directional
sound stage. The special features provided by Twilight Time are an audio track
for listening to Herrmann’s luscious score separately, a documentary on Robert
Wagner and informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo provided in a booklet that
comes with the disc. And did I mention it’s got an octopus? Recommended.