Diving bells! That’s where the future of oceanography lies! Screw micro-submarines and robot cameras. Bathyspheres is where the real science is at! At least that’s what 1957’s The Incredible Petrified World would have me believe. And why shouldn’t I believe it? It has John Carradine’s deep voice in it. Deep. Like the ocean. Where bathyspheres live! See, it's all connected!!
The movie ticks off a bunch of 50’s B-movie conventions: Lots of stock footage, scientists looking concerned at things while providing expository gibberish, male/female tension that gets in the way of the actual danger of the situation, and a title that has nothing to do with the movie. There is nothing “petrified” in this “world” except for maybe, MAYBE the underwater caves discovered, but that’s a stretch. The director is Jerry Warren, who was something of a poor man's Roger Corman, and the script was by John W. Steiner, and this is his only movie credit, which tells me the guy gave up on movies immediately after, or it was possibly a pseudonym. Either way, not good signs of quality.
So where are we plot-wise? It starts with a man narrating over stock footage of swimming fish. This man is probably Dr. J.R. Matheny (George Skaff) (I say probably because I never caught his name and who else but a doctor would fund such a thing in a 50s movie?), and he’s wasted, err, “spent” 70 thousand dollars on a diving bell project. Coincidentally, a Dr. Millard Wyman (John Carradine) also has a diving bell project, only he’s out in the Caribbean already. The team consists of 2 men: Craig Randall (Robert Clarke) and Paul Whitmore (Allen Windsor) who are interchangeable in their blandness, Lauri Talbott (Sheila Noonan), and a lady reporter (because there’s always a nosy female reporter) named Dale Marshall (Phyllis Coates) who talks her way onto the bathysphere. And of course something immediately goes wrong and the diving bell drops like a rock to the bottom of the ocean, coming to rest 1700 feet below the surface. Wyman, having designed the bell, feels real bad about that.
The crew wakes up and the men decide to scuba out to safety. Thankfully, up above, Wyman speculates how suicidal it would be to leave the bell at that depth in only scuba gear. The team can’t hear his speculation of course, so they do exactly that. I presume its an excuse to film women in body-hugging diving suits, which I can’t fault them for. Instead of their bodies floating up to the surface five hours later, they pop up in an underwater cave. Even better, the cave has air in it! The guys go back to the bathysphere for supplies and to spearfish for food, which is as exciting as it sounds. There’s also aimless wandering around the caverns.
Desperate for some kind of subplot, the two women start talking. Lauri, the scientist, is in love with Craig, one of the men (the other might as well be Craig 2 with how identically bland he is). Dale recently got a letter from her (ex)fiancée breaking up with her, so now she kind of hates all men and also Lauri for having a happy relationship.
They find a skeleton 12 years dead and then actually find someone who’s alive: a crazy old man with a terrible fake beard and the accent of a Canadian gold prospector! He’s been down there for 14 years and is thoroughly mad. He is also officially credited as Old Man in the Caverns and is played by Maurice Bernard, an actor and set designer from I'm guessing France (IMDB lists him as having worked on several French films).
Dr. Wyman decides to send another diving bell down to look for the first team, and teams up with the Narrator guy from the beginning of the movie to do so. Then it turns into a race to rescue them before the active volcano they’re in (?!) erupts or Canadian guy decides to kill the men and uncomfortably paw the women. Whichever comes first.
And still there’s nothing petrified about the entire movie, unless you count the pacing. *Rimshot*
So what’s good about the movie? Well, even though he’s in a supporting role, Carradine’s still watchable and lends an air of gravitas to his scenes. And there’s the crazy old Canadian guy. He’s just so goofy looking and obviously dangerous that he becomes the highlight of the movie. No other movie I’ve seen has an underwater cave with a crazy, murderous Quebecois-accented pervert trapped in it. There. There's your box quote.
Outside of that? No, there’s really not much good about The Incredible Petrified World. The protagonists are cardboard, the plot is boring, and the ending is a quickly cobbled-together mess of predictability. 70 minutes of bland oblivion.