SF action adventure. A late studio-system production, obviously shot on a lot but after the 1948 Paramount ruling was coming into effect—breaking vertical integration—and precisely at the juncture where television was starting to offer real competition.
James Mason is delightful as Nemo, but impossible to take seriously. He and his crew are all white, everybody speaks English, and black people are vicious cannibals. Verne, too, was a racist, and in fairness he had originally intended for Nemo to be Polish, but towards the end of his life he was more cosmopolitan than this production.
The design of the Nautilus is an uneasy combination of real period designs with round rivets everywhere and something a lot more fanciful, like medieval paintings of kraken. It doesn’t look hydrodynamic or fit for ramming at all. It appears to be nuclear-powered, since Aronnax has to wear a peculiar front-facing metal plate to gaze into its power source.
The film is paced like TV. It wastes time on a circus seal and a subplot where Ned Land (Kirk Douglas in stereotypical striped t-shirt) tries to steal some treasure. There are few attempts to emulate Verne’s sense of wonder at natural beauty under the sea. Incidental scenes focus instead on marine agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting. A parade of crewmen carrying captured giant turtles to kill and eat them is particularly sad in retrospect.
The special effects are unconvincing. The marine miniatures, in particular, all look pretty awful, except one warship that burns as its sinks.