Paramount // 1969 // 97 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 6th, 2005
Take a dive with the Miller family!
The tagline for Hello Down There, reprinted above, comes directly from the cover of the recently-released DVD. It is not, however, the movie's original tagline. That would be the following: "A combo of scuba dupes rock up a storm in a mad pad under the surf!" If that line doesn't let you know exactly what kind of movie Hello Down There is, I'm not sure I can make it any more clear. Now would be a good time to decide whether or not you wish to read any further.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Still with me? Good. Then you'll understand it when I say that Hello Down There is among the silliest, dopiest movies I have ever seen -- and how I mean that in the nicest possible way. It's a relic from a far-gone time; a quintessential 1960s combination of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies and The Shook-Up Shopping Cart (okay, so the second one is made up by Joe Dante, but you get the idea). It's a time when even "family" movies were goofily high-concept, but still had multiple rock 'n' roll songs (always performed by bands on screen) to attract the with-it youth audience; here, the rock band is Harold and the Hang-ups, fronted by a clearly out-of-place -- and even more clearly lip-synching -- Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws).
Hello Down There, though, came out in 1969; that's the year of Easy Rider, and two years after Bonnie and Clyde. The youth audience weaned on Frankie and Annette had already moved on to the next phase of cinema -- one that would carry through the next decade. That kind of revolution left movies like Hello Down There behind, like a dinosaur in its own time. Perhaps that's why the movie doesn't work as well as it could have had it been produced five years earlier; it's like the death rattle of a short-lived movement in cinema.
Probably not, though. More likely, Hello Down There doesn't work because it's just too dumb to stand a chance (and again, I say that without an ounce of hostility). If it matters at all, the movie tells the story of Fred Miller (Felix Unger himself, The Odd Couple's Tony Randall), an inventor who develops a futuristic home 90 feet below the surface of the ocean. In order not to be fired by his boss, the mean T.R. Hollister (Thurston Howell himself, Gilligan's Island's Jim Backus), Miller's got to convince his family to live in the underwater house for 30 days. His wife (Janet Leigh, who in the span of ten years made both Psycho and Hello Down There) eventually relents and moves their kids, along with the kids' rock band (Harold and the Hang-ups, Dreyfuss and all, who use the undersea inspiration to pen hits like "Goldfish" and "Glub-Glub" -- yet another indication of what kind of movie this is), under the sea. They fight off sharks, frolic with dolphins, and cruise around in a submarine -- all in some of the least convincing underwater photography ever brought to the screen.
I say all this not to discourage one from seeing the movie. Sure, it has little value outside of novelty and kitsch, but there's an innocence to it -- an obliviousness to just how silly and lame the whole thing is -- that I find refreshingly amusing. I don't subscribe to the notion that things are "good" or "fun" simply because they're dated or awful, but Hello Down There isn't worth my hostility. Sure, it doesn't exactly work, but how could it? I don't imagine it could have worked 35 years ago when it came out. I enjoyed it for the same reason that I won't change the radio dial when the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" comes on the radio. Sometimes, I wish pop art could still be that simple.
The DVD comes courtesy of Paramount without any extras -- not a surprise, really -- but with a decent video transfer (colors are bright and the image is free of much grain; not bad for a movie that's been around a while) and a mono soundtrack that, while not exactly reference quality, is at least faithful to its source. Should another option maybe have been included? Yes, but that might have been more time than the studio was willing to spend on Hello Down There.
Reading this review, you're likely to have one of two reactions: Either you'll decide that you cannot stay far enough away from this movie, or you'll know that you absolutely must seek out and witness Hello Down There firsthand. I can't blame you for either.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated G