Bill (Ken Scott, The Fantastic Voyage) has money troubles. He’s in deep with the IRS, and he finds himself working as an apartment house super in L.A. even though he hates the gig. But he hasn’t any choice in the matter really, because somehow working that job prevents the IRS from garnishing his wages. To make matters worse, Bill and his wife are stuck supporting his freeloading, alcoholic, rapist brother, Buddy (Garth Benton). Bill decides to do the only thing a man in his position can do to improve his lot in life. No, not go to college to get a better job and thereby make right by the IRS. Rob a bank! He hatches a hair-brained scheme to rob a bank on Catalina Island involving a daring underwater escape with the loot.
Tellingly, the film opens with a jaunty, swinging theme that puts you in the mood for a beach party, thus establishing the film as a clear product of the 1960’s. Add to this the setting of the robbery itself on Catalina Island, and you’d be hard-pressed not to draw comparisons between this 1965 picture and Catalina Caper (1967), so famously featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of course, there’s ultimately no comparison to Catalina Caper here. Raiders lacks all the hallmarks of a riff-worthy picture, the sort of cheesy film you’d sit around and make fun of with your friends. The acting from Benton is admittedly every bit as stilted as that which you might find in a Coleman Francis film, but apart from that, there’s nothing to really sink your snarky, critical teeth in to. It’s your basic, middle-of-the-road, B cheapy in most every way, with boom mic shadows all over the damn place and all. And frankly, it left me quite unenthused… that is, until the heist got under way!
Now, I’ll grant you that they could have found a more narratively compelling impetus for the robbery than simply having Bill lament that the IRS is breathing down his neck, but that doesn’t change the fact that the heist itself is chock full of awesomeness. The planning stage of the heist isn’t bad either, although most of it involves the gang simply talking their way through the heist rather than practicing their movements or going over detailed diagrams as the best planning stages in heist films do. But of course, things rarely ever go as planned in a heist film and the holes in Bill’s plot prove to be quite vast indeed, resulting in an amazing climax that I don’t dare spoil here. Suffice it to say that they storm the bank wearing full scuba gear with harpoon guns in hand. How cool is that?
Raiders from Beneath the Sea is now available on MOD DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation’s Cinema Archives.