• Beneath The 12-Mile Reef

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: September 29, 2017
    Directed by: Robert D. Webb
    Cast: Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Gilbert Roland, J. Carrol Naish, Richard Boone, Angela Clarke, Peter Graves, Jay Novello, Jacques Aubuchon, Gloria Gordon, Harry Carey, Jr., Theophilus Karaphilis
    Year: 1953
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Tony Petrakis (Robert Wagner) lives with his father Mike (Gilbert Roland), his mother (Angela Clarke), and his sister Penny (Gloria Gordon) along the Florida coast, where the family dives for sponges. Being of Greek descent, they face more than their share of discrimination, particularly from their white rivals, the Conchs, who are headed up by patriarch Thomas Rhys (Richard Boone). When father and son Petrakis, along with their friend Socrates (J. Carrol Naish), go diving near Key West, the Conchs threaten to cut Mike’s line unless they hand over all their sponges. Forced to do so, the Greeks are robbed of a considerable amount of money. Meanwhile, a member of the Conchs, Arnold Dix (Peter Graves), is in love with Rhys’s daughter Gwyneth (Terry Moore). He hopes to marry her, but she refuses to provide him an answer. When Tony and Gwyneth meet, however, they fall in love, which increases the tension between the two groups.

    The only place left for the Greeks to dive is beneath 12-Mile Reef, where brother Peter dived and died. Because of Peter’s death, Mike doesn’t want his only remaining son to dive there. He dives instead and likewise dies, leaving Tony the family’s sole breadwinner. Unfortunately, the Conchs steal the Greeks’ latest bounty and accidentally set their boat on fire. To add insult to injury, Arnold also kicks Tony’s ass and tells him to get lost or he’ll face a worse fate. Undeterred, Tony and Gwyneth take the Conch’s boat in the dead of night in the hope of salvaging things.

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was the third film to be released in Cinemascope by 20th Century Fox; it was a new widescreen format that aimed to lure viewers away from their television sets and back into theaters. The first film shot in the process, The Robe, had been released earlier in the year and proved to be a massive moneymaker, not only because of the Cinemascope process but also because of the subject matter (it was based on a highly successful inspirational novel by Lloyd C. Douglas and shot in vivid technicolor). Beneath the 12-Mile Reef sought to take the process further by dipping its toe—or, rather, its entire body—into the sea. Indeed, some of it comes across as a travelogue, some of it as an undersea documentary, and some of it as a tired soap-operatic melodrama. Edward Cronjager’s gorgeous cinematography was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award the following year. But despite rumors otherwise, the film was only a moderate success at the box office, meaning that it made its money back but didn’t do anywhere near the numbers of its above-named predecessor.

    There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that the film simply isn’t very good. It’s too repetitive and, at times, implausible. Performances are fine, though the scene in which Mike Petrakis defends his son by forcing Arnold to eat a cigar is jaw-droppingly hilarious for all the wrong reasons (sometimes, un cigarro es más que solo un cigarro).


    Twilight Time brings 20th Century Fox’s classic film to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 encode in 1080p high definition. The Cinemascope image is placed on the disc in a ratio of 2.55:1, slightly off from its original 2.66:1 aspect ratio, though it’s doubtful you’ll miss anything. At 102 minutes and with only one extra, there’s plenty of space on the region-free BD50 to hold the film without compression issues. Details are generally strong, a major plus in a film that’s mostly set outside. Shot on location in Tarpon Springs and Key West, Florida, the coastline looks splendid in hi-def, with sharply delineated and textured trees, sand, and water. The image is deep and layered. Grain is just visible enough to confirm that the source is film without overtaking and blowing out parts of the picture; black and gray levels are nicely balanced, and there’s little to no crush. The only time there’s lack of detail is during some of the underwater photography, which can be credited to the equipment and technology of the time. Even in those instances, watching a character get attacked by a squid is an otherworldly treat that must have thrilled viewers at the time.

    Now let’s talk about the color. When the British Film Institute remastered Hammer’s Dracula (1958), and followed it up with an authorized BD from Lionsgate, fans complained about the lack of vibrant color, believing that the image was manipulated to appear bluish in imitation of modern cinematic authoring. The BFI, however, claimed that what was released was an accurate representation of the original film elements they used for the mastering process, and that Warner had warmed the colors for their theatrical and home video releases. Why is Hammer’s Dracula being brought up here? Because the mastering on Beneath the 12-Mile Reef lends credence to the BFI’s argument. Beneath has a cold, teal tinge from start to finish, resulting in colors being less vibrant than one would expect from films of this particular vintage. It’s doubtful, however, that the technicians at Fox purposefully changed the colors in the transferring/remastering process. It should also be noted that both films were shot in Technicolor, and other hi-def releases from Fox shot the same way have a similar bluish appearance. The image has clearly been swept free of most dirt and debris

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was originally released to theaters with an English 4-track stereo sound mix. Twilight Time’s release presents that sound in a recently remastered and lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The surround mix is well managed, and dialogue is clear. Bernard Herrmann’s score is beautifully rendered. That music is presented in its own isolated track as well, though the DTS-HD 3.0 sound is less robust than that for the feature presentation. The primary track is also offered in English DTS-HD MA 2.0, but unless the only sound system you have is your television set’s, then your best bet is to opt for the 5.1.

    There’s a sparsity of extras, but the one that’s included is excellent: a Biography episode about star “Robert Wagner: Hollywood’s Prince Charming.” Narrated by Wagner’s Reef co-star Peter Graves, it was shot and aired in 1999. As usual with Biography, it’s a fairly sanitized and glossy take on the actor’s life and career, particularly his second marriage to Natalie Wood. Interviewed are various actors, friends, and relations.

    Concluding the presentation are liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo, who offers astute observations in her usual superior voice. (Why she hasn’t written the great American novel is a question we all have). The notes are included in an 8-page booklet featuring poster art and stills from the film.

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is limited to 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is a decent time filler; its saving grace is its gorgeous photography, some of which takes place underwater. Detail levels are high, while colors are fairly cold but beautiful nonetheless. The transfer is strong overall, and the sound is good. The inclusion of a Biography episode about Robert Wagner is merely icing on the visual and aural cake.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!