him. Hey, we’ve all been there with Frankie, right? Sergeant Dead Head my ass. Anyway, after that, Crane decides to relive the Admiral and stop the whole stupid mission, saying “If the Admiral is crazy, then his plan is crazy.” Curiously, no one listens to Peter Lorre who insists the plan is valid, and no one seems to remember the poison gas pumped through the air vents. Crane relieves Nelson of command - mercifully putting him on “Sick List” rather than more damning reasons - but this is busted up by an attack from an American Skipjack-class sub. The Seaview won’t fire on an American sub, so they dive as deep as they can. The Skpjack doesn’t pull up, and is crushed. Then the Seaview is attacked by a giant octopus, but they drive it off by sending an electrical charge through the hull, which they saw in a movie somewhere. Then, as they arrive at the launch site, the reactor goes down. Crane runs aft to find out what’s going on, and gets as far as the rickety catwalk I warned you about over the shark tank, where he meets Joan Fontaine. She’s just sabotaged the reactor and given herself a fatal dose of radiation in the process. She confesses the whole thing to Crane, but then the sub lurches at an inopportune moment, and she falls into the tank and is eaten by Bessie. Crane falls over and is unconscious. Meanwhile the fire in the sky passes the UN’s “Burnout Point” and keeps burning. The UN was wrong. Again.
Ansara, meanwhile, grabs a hand grenade-ish-looking thing and threatens to blow it up if anyone tries to fire the missile. Barbara Eden and Peter Lorre run looking for Crane and find him asleep on the catwalk. They fill him in on what’s going on, so he goes outside in a wetsuit and fires the missile manually. The sub lurches as it launches, Ansara almost falls, and Frankie Avalon rushes him and grabs the grenade, or whatever it is.
They surface, and up on deck they watch the fires in the sky recede, the world is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after, excepting the billion or so people who died because the temperature was over 100 degrees for like a month. And Joan Fontaine. And probably Bessie, who gobbled up so much radiation that she probably had to be killed.
Wow. Where to begin? First of all, the Van Allen Belt is a zone in the earth’s magnetic field that tends to naturally trap ionized particles thrown out by the sun, and hold them indefinitely. This shields the earth from a lot of radiation from space, but it allows radiation in at the poles where the belt is so weak as to be nonexistent. The particles that get in through the poles cause the Northern and Southern Lights. Being a zone of fairly hard radiation, it poses a hazard to humans, so the Apollo astronauts (The only ones to travel through it) went really fast in hopes of minimizing exposure. Though theorized to exist for some time, it was actually discovered by Dr. James Van Allen in 1958, and as a result it was still pretty topical neato-keeno stuff when they decided to throw it in to this 1961 movie. That said, the belt “Catching Fire” is utter nonsense - there’s nothing there to burn! Certainly it being ignited by a meteor shower is even more utter nonsense.
Global temperature gets as high as 174 degrees by the end of the movie, after having climbed steadily for a month. Realistically, I don’t think anyone could have survived that. That’s 78 degrees Celsius. Not only do I doubt humans could have survived that, I can’t really think of a land animal that could have survived it for long, either.
Aside from the glass nosed observation deck in the submarine, the sets are pretty solidly realistic, if not amazingly inventive. The control room is one of the neater sets on film or TV from this era. Most of these sets were stored and reused in the 1964-1968 TV series, though not all. The Crews Quarters in this movie is different, as is Nelson’s cabin. The Mess Hall is much larger here. The deck and conning tower set is actually pretty impressive, and looks real.
We get both sides of the “God” equation in this movie: Michael Ansara’s apocalyptic fatalism and fanaticism, versus Admiral Nelson’s understated rational theological optimism. He makes a point