Walter Pidgeon is the nominal star of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, portraying Admiral Harriman Nelson, the designer of the submarine Seaview, a glass-nosed research submarine. The sub embarks on her shakedown cruise under the polar ice cap as the movie begins. Upon surfacing, however, the crew discovers that the entire sky is on fire -- the Van Allen radiation belt has been ignited by a freak meteor shower, and the Earth is being slowly burnt to a cinder. Nelson and his colleague, Commodore Lucius Emery (Peter Lorre), devise a plan to extinguish the belt using one of the Seaview's nuclear missiles, but they are denounced at an emergency meeting of the United Nations. Disregarding the UN vote against him, Nelson decides to go forward with his plan before the Earth is destroyed, hoping to get the approval of the president of the United States while his ship races from New York to the Marianas in the Pacific to launch its missile on time and target, with the world's navies hunting her down and communication with Washington impossible because of the fire in the sky. Nelson must combat not only the threats from other ships but also the doubts of his own protégé, Commander Lee Crane (Robert Sterling), the captain of the Seaview, about his plan and his methods, and the growing suspicion -- being spread by Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), a psychiatrist who was visiting the vessel -- about his sanity, as well as the growing discontent of the crew, who would like to see their families before the end of the world, and the presence of one religious fanatic (Michael Ansara) who thinks the fire in the sky is God's will. Worse still, there appears to be a saboteur -- and possibly more than one -- aboard. The plot is episodic in pacing and features elements that were clearly derived in inspiration from Disney's 1954 production of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, such as Nelson's eccentricity and the "outlaw" status of his ship; but the undersea maneuvers to tap the trans-Atlantic telephone cable (in order to reach Washington), the battle with a giant squid, a duel with an attack submarine, and a harrowing tangle with a WWII mine field would become standard elements of the series of the same name that followed this movie two years later. Pidgeon brings dignity if not a huge amount of energy to the role of the admiral, and Lorre, Fontaine, Ansara, and Henry Daniell (playing Nelson's scientific nemesis) add some colorful performances, and Barbara Eden, as Nelson's secretary, is pretty to look at; and there are some excellent supporting performances by Delbert Monroe (aka Del Monroe, who appeared later in the series, as Kowalsky), Mark Slade, John Litel, Howard McNear, and Robert Easton. The real "star" of the movie, however, is the submarine Seaview and the special effects by L.B. Abbott, which, to be fully appreciated, should be seen in a letterboxed presentation of the movie.
by Bruce Eder synopsis