Although it includes merely adequate acting, has special effects that range from good to bad, uses a ridiculous scientific premise for its plot, and a script that telegraphs its surprises, I continue to love this film. This is probably Irwin Allen's first disaster film, but you could go back to his previous two films as either producer or director, "The Big Circus" and "The Lost World" and see elements of disaster in them as well. In "Voyage," however, the disaster is right up front, and driving the plot. Like his earlier films, it also boasts a large ensemble cast, and confines them in a tight space.
I enjoy stories that take place on trains, also a tight space. It's appealing to be on a moving vehicle with the scenery wisping by out the windows, and also realize a world of intrigue is going on in the various compartments inside the train. "Voyage" appeals for the same reason. The "Van Allen Belt" somehow catches fire and threatens the end of civilization, so the Admiral of the SS Seaview, Admiral Nelson (a well-cast Walter Pigeon) must sail to the Marianas trench within a short time to fire off an atomic missile to break up the belt and send it off into space. Things could go wrong of course.
So the Admiral is on a mission and we are flung together with a mismatched group that is often at odds with each other's objectives. Personalities often clash. Peter Lorre, as Commodore Emery, the feisty scientific associate of the Admiral, is good at displaying an irascible disposition driven onward by dedication to his commanding officer.
Robert Serling, unfortunately not much remembered today, plays devil's advocate as Captain Crane, gradually coming to believe that the Admiral's scheme is lunacy. He is engaged to Barbara Eden's character, Conners, and their banter consists mostly of her trying to talk him out of going against the Admiral. It eventually grows tiresome but at least she has that blue uniform which has more sex appeal than one would think. Playing a sort of Iago to the Captain's faith in the Admiral is Joan Fontaine, as Dr. Susan Hiller, brought aboard to do research about men under stress. She believes the Admiral is off balance and tries to convince the Captain, who almost takes charge of the Seaview, but is stopped in typical Irwin Allen fashion when when the Seaview gets attacked by a UN sub intent on ending Admiral's mission.
The interior set of the Seaview probably doesn't seem like much these days with its wood paneling on walls and cupboards, or it's array of flashing Christmas tree lights on the control boards, but it felt modern to me back in 1961. I only had Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" as a submarine film to compare it to. Disney's film is certainly a more quality production than "Voyage," but it has a lot in common with Allen's film. "Leagues" uses an ensemble cast as well. Peter Lorre is also in the cast. Like Pigeon's Admiral Nelson, James Mason's Captain Nemo is of a single mind with a plan that many others aboard would like to subvert. There is a saboteur on board the Nautlus as well, Kirk Douglas, who alerts the authorities to the whereabouts of Nemo's secret hideaway by setting bottles adrift with messages. And of course both films have a giant squid. "Voyage"'s squid is pretty shameful, fx-wise, but the Disney squid isn't all that realistic either. "Voyage" also has a giant octopus attach itself to the glass window nose of the Seaview and has to be disengaged by electricity. Unlike the fake-looking squid, at least this was a real octopus attached to the front of the Seaview model, and it was exciting to see its suckers glomming on from the inside of the sub windows.
Where the visual effects continue to hold up is in the shots of the sky afire as the Seaview skims the surface of the ocean. These shots are convincing, have scale and do suggest the magnitude of the disaster. One drawback is a view taken from outer space showing the burning Van Allen belt encircling the Earth in a news report. Just as fake as fake can get. And of course, even though it looked good on film, when the Seaview is in the North Pole and the ice floes break apart, sink and bang into the sub exterior, someone forgot to tell the director that ice floats, it doesn't sink.
The music by Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter uses a swirl of glissando harps and includes a main theme song sung by Frankie Avalon (who also appears in the film) that for some reason, as corny as it is, still seems hip somehow. Maybe I was comparing it to Disney's "Leagues" which had Kirk Douglas singing 'A Whale of a Tale," clearly a song of it's time. At least the main theme for "Voyage" had a pop star as the vocalist.
The film was a big success when it came out, spawned a TV series, continues to show on Netflix and get re-releases on DVD and Bluray. So it has staying power, as dumb as it is. I like it for the reasons mentioned: the ensemble cast in tight quarters, often at each other's throats as they travel through the sea to defy world opinion and save the world from itself. Perhaps I'm the only one who has this much affection for such a silly film, but it has a quality I've not found elsewhere.
Review by kirksworks from the Internet Movie Database.