Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)

Genres - Action, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Dec 2, 1953 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 102 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - G
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Robert Webb's Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was only the second movie ever shot in Cinemascope at 20th Century Fox, and it presented challenges all the way around. The use of Cinemascope underwater was something entirely new and shooting in color underwater offered potential pitfalls as well. Webb succeeded, mostly with help from two central performances -- by Gilbert Roland and Richard Boone -- that had a lot of heart (this might be Roland's best movie), and the extraordinarily beautiful, Oscar-nominated cinematography by Edward J. Cronjager. Those virtues were all topped off by one of the finest scores ever written by Bernard Herrmann, the composer making full use of the range of timbrel effects and stereo separation in creating a dazzling musical accompaniment to the action. The drama itself is fairly routine, distinguished mostly by Roland and Boone's performances, though Robert Wagner and Terry Moore do try hard in what cannot have been an easy shoot, with lots of location work involved. There is also a surprising degree of depth and subtlety to the script that may be lost amid the brawling, violence, and threats of violence. This is very much a movie of its time, its plot steeped in issues of prejudice and the perceptions of prejudice. The Rhyses and the other American-born fishermen despise the Greeks as interlopers and poachers, but Gwyneth Rhys and her father are smarter than the others, recognizing in Tony and his father qualities of bravery and honor that they can respect and admire. They also see in Arnold (Peter Graves), one of their own, a lot of qualities that they come to despise. This element of the script may seem simplistic by modern standards, but it makes Beneath the 12-Mile Reef a much more serious film than it's usually perceived as being. This script would not have been written that way, or the film shot to such a script, a decade earlier, and its social subtext is one of the elements that has helped it maintain its audience across 50 years. Most viewers, however, will probably be drawn first to the film's technical virtues. The combination of Cinemascope and color in the underwater sequences are worth the price of admission, creating an enveloping effect that is completed by Herrmann's score. Alternately bright and exuberant, or dark and ominous, the music incorporates elements of impressionism in its unusual sonorities (including a cadenza for nine harps that anticipated a similar, better-known piece of music that he wrote for the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth six years later). The haunting melodies that crop up throughout are a delight to the audience, without ever overwhelming the visual component of the picture. Herrmann's music for this film was so strong and memorable that parts of his score were still being excerpted by Fox's music department more than a decade later for use in other productions. To be appreciated properly, the movie must be seen in widescreen, fully letterboxed, in one of its better home video editions. The copyright on Beneath the 12-Mile Reef lapsed in 1981, and since then it has been heavily bootlegged on videocassette, in mostly not very attractive versions. In the 1990s, however, a preservation-quality 35 mm Scope print turned up in the hands of a collector, and this has since become the source for an excellent letterboxed edition of the movie (with stereo sound) on laserdisc from Lumivision and DVD from Slingshot Entertainment.