Sunday, October 06, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Sharkfighters (1956)

THE SHARKFIGHTERS is a mildly interesting film about Naval efforts to discover a shark repellent which could be used to protect servicemen stranded in the ocean during WWII.

Victor Mature plays Lt. Commander Ben Staves, who arrives in Cuba in 1943 in order to help speed along the research being conducted by Lt. Commander Leonard Evans (Philip Coolidge) and Ensign Harold Duncan (James Olson).

Staves has a personal interest in the project, as he had spent several days drifting at sea with his men after his ship went down, and a significant number of the men had lost their lives to sharks. Despite still suffering the effects of his time at sea, Staves insists on personally testing the repellent in shark-infested waters.

This film has a number of positive things going for it, starting with the likeable, interesting Victor Mature in the starring role; the film also boasts a score by the great composer Jerome Moross, and it has the added plus of having been shot entirely on location in Cuba. As a viewer I was rooting for THE SHARKFIGHTERS to be better than it was, but unfortunately it suffers from lackadaisical pacing and a weak script. I found it worthwhile yet felt regret that it wasn't a stronger film.

One senses there's a very compelling film in here somewhere, but instead the movie sort of meanders around, spending time focusing on oddball Leonard or on scenes which don't really matter to the story at hand. Exactly why, for example, do we care what Chief Gordon (Claude Akins) orders the cook to make for dinner? For a movie which is only 73 minutes, it lacks focus.

It might be said that the scenes in Havana with Staves and his lovely wife Martha (Karen Steele) aren't really needed either, but I think they helped to humanize him, as at the base he's such a single-minded machine. The scenes with Martha show him in a more relaxed mode, and they also share a beach scene to illustrate he's still carrying the mental scars of his previous encounters with sharks. In an earlier scene, in fact, Staves picked up a rifle and shot up a shark, just for the satisfaction of doing so.

In many ways the movie feels more like a travelogue than an exciting action movie. This is never more apparent than during a lovely underwater scene midway through the movie. Ironically, though, the movie doesn't really show the viewer a great deal of Cuba, focusing mostly on the coastline where the research is being conducted. The movie was shot in CinemaScope by Lee Garmes.

Jerome Moross wrote his score for THE SHARKFIGHTERS just a couple of years before composing his best-known film score, THE BIG COUNTRY (1958). A preview of the overture can be heard here, and there's a longer selection here. Moross wrote a crisp score which does a terrific job capturing the tension of dealing with sharks, a couple of decades ahead of John Williams' score for JAWS (1975).

THE SHARKFIGHTERS was produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who was born in 1926 and is still working today; he produced the brand-new release THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013). THE SHARKFIGHTERS was directed by Jerry Hopper.

The supporting cast includes a young Rafael Campos (BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, CENTENNIAL). The opening narration is by Charles Collingwood.

THE SHARKFIGHTERS was distributed by United Artists. It is not available on DVD or VHS, but has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older