Friday, August 24, 2012

Sea Hunt: Mark of the Octopus (Ziv TV, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After the very interesting “Something for an Empty Briefcase” I picked out a much less exalted program for the rest of the evening: “Mark of the Octopus,” fourth episode in the first season of Sea Hunt, a famous vehicle for Lloyd Bridges as deep-sea diver Mike Nelson whose attraction was mainly the relatively novelty of SCUBA equipment (the name is an acronym for “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus”) and the quite good underwater photography. (The many shots of Bridges without anything on above his waist don’t hurt either, and he was a hot-looking guy with an impressive basket even though he didn’t have much in the nipple department.) When the episode opens we see a shot of an offshore oil-drilling platform and the voice of Mike Nelson on the soundtrack (Charles seemed more amused that his namesake later hosted Mystery Science Theatre 3000 than by the similarity in their own names!) telling us that it’s due to him that we have that wonderful installation tapping the riches of underwater energy — and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re supposed to think this is a good thing?” Then Mike starts giving us the flashback that four months ago a survey boat belonging to the company that drilled the well (oddly referred to as a mining company in Arthur Weiss’s script) was found abandoned, all except for a crazy guy on board who kept eating flies and spiders … oops, wrong movie. The boat had actually sailed with two men on board, geologists for the mining company looking for potential undersea oil deposits, only both had disappeared — and it turns out one of them, Wilkes (Steve Mitchell), killed the other and made off with the survey information.

The Coast Guard, whose personnel are depicted the way official policemen are in most private-detective fiction (as idiots who need the help of the amateur to solve the crime and avoid leaping to the most obvious conclusion about it), decide that the dead diver was killed by an octopus because markings similar to those left by an octopus’s tentacles were found on his body — but Mike and his assistant/girlfriend Dr. Kate Marlow (Mari Aldon) realize that octopi don’t attack humans and therefore some skullduggery is involved — and sure enough, it turns out that Wilkes used a plastic cord with suction cups on it that left marks resembling those of an octopus. Mike goes out — after telling Kate to stay out of the final climax (in that annoying sexism common to 1950’s movies and TV shows) — with Bennett (Peter Hanson), official of the mining company and Wilkes’ nominal supervisor, only Bennett turns out to be in on Wilkes’ conspiracy and the two of them try to ambush Mike underwater. Of course they fail, and all ends happily (except for the environment and the atmosphere). The show was directed by action specialist Andrew Marton and was well done, especially the underwater photography — Monroe Askins is the overall director of photography but apparently someone else, Lamar Boren, did the underwater shots — while the executive producer was Ivan Tors, who’d already made a name for himself with the movies The Magnetic Monster and Gog and would later achieve the heights of his peculiar fame with the Flipper movies and TV series, so it’s not surprising that a good chunk of this film was shot at Marineland of the Pacific (essentially the beta version of Sea World; the original Marineland was in Florida and was used as a location in Revenge of the Creature in 1955) and offers a glimpse of the aquatic theme park and the kinds of performances it would offer in their infancy.