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The John Sturges production of Underwater (1955) was a project that had less to do with him than the personal interests of the film's executive producer, the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Credited as an RKO release, Underwater! had Hughes' fingerprints all over it, and not just because Hughes practically ran RKO after his 1948 acquisition of the studio for $9 million. The film was developed as a showcase for one of Hughes' obsessions: Jane Russell's physique. This exploitation of Russell's considerable talents was only one of the many times Hughes did so, the first being The Outlaw (1943). As it turned out, Underwater! was the last picture Russell made for Howard Hughes.
Hughes' other motivating factor in producing Underwater! was for showing off scuba gear, which was a relatively new invention. Having made his millions as an industrialist, Hughes was a mover and shaker in the development of new technology, especially in the aeronautical industry. As he did with the aviation machinery in Hell's Angels (1930), Hughes essentially based Underwater! around the new scuba diving equipment that enabled humans to move quickly and easily beneath the surface of water. The film's tagline ("Skin Diver Action... Aqua-lung Thrills!") reflects Hughes' primary interests in Underwater!.
For the record, Underwater! follows skin diver Richard Egan, his wife (Russell), and fortune hunter Gilbert Roland as they search for buried treasure while fighting off sharks and nautical bandits. Unfortunately, despite the new scuba diving technology, the six weeks spent shooting off the Kona Coast in Hawaii produced very little usable footage. As a result, Underwater! was completed back at RKO in a giant underwater tank installed on some of the sound stages where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced just 15 years before. But the realities of doing anything underwater for a sustained amount of time did not deter the filmmakers from staging one of the most infamous publicity stunts in conjunction with a film premiere. Some 200 journalists and screen personalities were flown to Silver Springs, Florida, in January 1955 to attend the world premiere of Howard Hughes' wet epic. All the participants donned bathing suits, aqua lungs and swim fins and viewed the movie 20 feet beneath the surface of the clear spring water. Those who did not wish to take a 99-minute dip were allowed to watch the picture through portholes from six electrically powered submarines. Despite this audacious publicity stunt, Underwater! did not make much of an impression on audiences when it went into national release. If anything, Underwater! will be remembered for Jane Russell's swimsuits and the song, "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," which became a top forty hit as performed by Perez Prado.
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Howard Hughes, Harry Tatelman
Screenplay: Walter Newman
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Editor: Stuart Gilmore
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Jane Russell (Theresa), Gilbert Roland (Dominic), Richard Egan (Johnny), Lori Nelson (Gloria), Robert Keith (Fr Cannon), Joseph Calleia (Rico).
by Scott McGee