Kino Lorber rescues yet another historically significant motion picture from oblivion with the salvation of this 1960 high-seas adventure effort, September Storm; the first motion picture to have underwater footage shot in both color and 3D, an odd concept in today's world of a zillion 3D underwater IMAX presentations, but there it is.
The story concerns four misfits who seek to steal sunken treasure recently submerged off the Spanish coast. Written by The Asphalt Jungle screenwriter W.R. Burnett, tale is populated with the kind of hardboiled, noirish characters that you would expect from him: The wiry, middle aged con man, played by Mark Stevens; his dull-as-he-is-heavy sidekick extremely well-played by the always good Robert Strauss (of Stalag 17 fame); an aging New York City fashion model well-played by Joanne Dru from the classics All The King's Men and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and a young Spanish seafarer played with surprising credibility by newcomer - and New York actor - Asher Dann. The dialogue boils over with easy criminal charm and leering wisecrackery from both men and lady, alike, making this a bit of a Sam Spade Adventure along the Spanish coastline - once the adventure is underway, you'd need to face the shore with a pair of binoculars to find any honorable individuals.
The direction of the film is essentially solid but spotty, frankly. Taking the helm is Byron Haskin of such classics as George Pal's War of the Worlds. Starting out in visual effects in the early days and with a very keen eye for composition, some of Haskin's more fine-tuned visual instincts appear to have left him in this one. Likely hired for his handling of visual effects and action scenes, Haskin does not disappoint, however. The titular September Storm is a real lu-lu for a motion picture made outside of the big studios. The miniature work of the schooner rolling in the storm-swept sea at night is outstanding and almost alarming in its sense of danger, and matches the lighting and feel of the full-scale live action perfectly. No small accomplishment as one almost never sees that combination in motion pictures made before the digital revolution. Likewise, the miniature 3D work is handled surprisingly well. Remember that 3D should, by all rights, give away the smaller scale of the miniature ship in the outstanding water tank work, but this is not the case, and the sense of scale is actually amazingly well-preserved, contributing a true sense of danger to the scene as the "full size" ship appears to be in the grip of God's ocean fury. The full-scale gags such as waves crashing about the actors on deck is also exceedingly well-done with large masses washing about the actors. When most such scenes in movies appear to be spare on the waterworks, September Storm delivers spectacularly.
Haskin's work with the actors, in a couple of years to be terrifically realized on the classic TV show The Outer Limits, is a bit below par here, though Dru and Strauss come through well. A few scenes involving characters other than the leads appear to have been shot by a second unit as they have none of Haskin's feel for the camera and handling of actors. Apparently the underwater scenes were directed by the underwater cameramen as is so often the case with underwater scenes, for obvious reasons. When the action is basic the scenes are solid and well-cut. However the action underwater is underwhelming and the brief run-in with a much-too obvious rubber shark provides some forgivable unintentional humor. It isn't terrible, but it isn't Jaws, either. However, this meat-eater is forgotten by the audience almost the moment it leaves. The color underwater work is quite well-realized and occasionally atmospheric; scenes of the characters in scuba gear exploring the sunken wreck with burning flares are very good. Likewise, on-shore, the Spanish scenery is put to exceedingly good use.
By-and-large the 3D is very good although this viewer needed to adjust the 3D settings to low because some of the depth is a bit overzealous and can lead to occasional eye strain. If you have a 3D TV and use it, however, you are probably easily acquainted with making such casual adjustments. The quality of the print, as can always be expected from 3D Archive, is as good as could be hoped. This film was thought lost, but Kino and 3D Archive rescued it from oblivion and a good, clean job of it they did, too.
September Storm is a good way to pass an evening with some occasional laughs, a bit of suspense and a terrific storm sequence. Recommended for lovers of 3D, noirish characters and dialogue, beautiful, exotic scenery and stiff salt water taffy. Enjoyable.