The Atomic Submarine is a 1959 independently made American black-and-white science fiction film produced by Alex Gordon, directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, and starring Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, and Brett Halsey, with John Hillard as the voice of the alien. The film was distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.
The story of The Atomic Submarine concerns an alien invasion that begins when an underwater UFO attacks the world's shipping for unknown reasons. The film showcases the (then) new technology of nuclear submarines and follows the crew and scientists aboard the atomic powered USS Tigershark, which has been ordered to hunt down the mysterious underwater saucer and stop its disruption of sea commerce.
A brief prologue describes how in 1909 Robert Peary had trouble reaching the North Pole. The narration postulates that Peary would have been amazed to see how in just a few decades the very same pole had become a major thoroughfare for civilian and military shipping; a futuristic prediction of cargo-carrying atomic submarines follows. One of those submarines is destroyed by a mysterious undersea light. The loss of this and several other cargo ships alarms the world. Governments temporarily close the polar route and convene an emergency meeting at the Pentagon.
Present at the meeting is Commander Dan Wendover (Dick Foran), the Captain of the atomic submarine Tigershark, and Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Ian Hunt (Tom Conway). The United States Secretary of Defense (Jack Mulhil) leads the meeting; he explains all that is known about the disasters in the Arctic and then describes the high-tech capabilities of the Tigershark. These include a special hull and a mini-sub (the Lungfish) that can be stored inside the submarine. The Secretary finishes by telling Wendover that he is to take Hunt, the Tigershark, and her crew to resolve the ship sinkings and, if possible, eliminate their cause.
Lieutenant Commander Richard "Reef" Holloway (Arthur Franz), the Executive Officer of the USSTigershark are then introduced. Also shown is how a submarine gathers its crew on short notice and sets sail. Holloway is told that he will be bunking with the inventor of the Lungfish, Dr. Carl Neilson. At first he is thrilled. Holloway believes that his bunkmate is Dr. Neilson Sr., a scientist he reveres. To his dismay, Holloway learns, instead, that his bunk mate is Dr. Carl Neilson Jr. (Brett Halsey), a pacifistic scientist he dislikes.
The scenes following spotlight the day-to-day life on an atomic submarine. After a time, the Tigershark finally discovers the cause of the disasters: an underwater saucer-shaped craft with a strange light coming from an eye-shaped window located atop and in the center of the saucer's upper dome. One of the Tigershark 's scientists, Dr. Clifford Kent (Victor Varconi), briefly shows a photo of an Unidentified Flying Object taken from his days as a UFO investigator for the Air Force; investigating such phenomena was his job in those days. Because of that photo and its similarity to this vessel, the submariners began to realize their quarry is an extraterrestrial lifeform. Inspired by that eye-shaped window, the crew nickname the spacecraft "Cyclops".
Commander Wendover orders the submarine's most powerful torpedoes fired at the saucer. They reach the craft but are stopped short by a gel-like extrusion coming from within the saucer; they do not explode. Dismayed by this failure, the captain knows that he must do something to stop the ship sinkings, so he gives the order for the Tigershark to ram the alien spacecraft. The submarine's nose breaks through the lower side of the saucer and becomes trapped there.
Lieutenant Commander Holloway and Dr. Neilson then lead a team aboard the Lungfish and enter the spacecraft. Once inside, Holloway and crew find dark hallways with little illumination. It is then that Holloway gets his first telepathic message from the spacecraft's sole occupant, an octopus-like creature with a single large eye. Holloway meets the creature face-to-face. In the course of their conversation the alien proves its hostile intent by savagely killing the other members of his team. The creature further proves hostile by announcing that it plans to bring several human specimens back to its home planet, eventually to return with more of its kind to take over the Earth. Now realizing that he has a lot more to worry about than a few ship sinkings, Holloway attacks the alien by firing a Very pistol into its eye, temporarily blinding it. He then races back to the Lungfish and returns to the Tigershark with Dr. Neilson, breaking away from the saucer.
Holloway then tells Commander Wendover, "Captain, if that thing ever gets back to where it came from, the Earth and everyone on it is doomed." The submariners remember that their weapons failed the first time that they were used against the spaceship. They have an emergency meeting where Tigershark's group of scientists develop a plan to turn one of their ICBMs into a ground-to-air missile. Their plan is carried out with the agreement of Commander Wendover and the aid of several crewmen. When the saucer rises from the ocean and attempts to leave, the Tigershark fires the missile, destroying the saucer and its occupant. Holloway and the young Neilson are reconciled, with the latter realizing that his pacifism was no match for hostile aliens.
Arthur Franz as Lieutenant Commander Richard 'Reef' Holloway
Dick Foran as Commander Dan Wendover
Brett Halsey as Dr. Carl Neilson
Paul Dubov as Lieutenant David Milburn
Bob Steele as CPO 'Grif' Griffin
Victor Varconi as Dr. Clifford Kent
Joi Lansing as Julie
Selmer Jackson as Admiral Terhune
Jack Mulhall as Secretary of Defense Justin Murdock
Jean Moorhead as Helen Milburn
Richard Tyler as Seaman Don Carney
Sid Melton as Yeoman Chester Tuttle
Kenneth Becker as Seaman Al Powell
Frank Watkins as Watkins
Tom Conway as Sir Ian Hunt
John Hilliard as Voice of Spaceman
Pat Michaels as Narrator
Principal photography for The Atomic Submarine took place from mid-June to early July 1959.
Two later science fiction films also "starred" nuclear submarines: Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in 1961 and the Japanese film Atragon in 1963. In all three films a high-tech nuclear submarine of the near-future travels to the deepest part of the ocean in order to save the Earth from destruction.
Coincidentally, actor Arthur Franz, who played Lieutenant Commander Holloway in The Atomic Submarine, guest starred five years later on an episode of Irwin Allen's 1964 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea television series.