20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Based on a novel by Jules Verne, a scientist, his assistant, and a harpooner discover a fugitive captain and his submarine that have created their own independent life in the sea.
In 1868 a submarine attacks a ship. In San Francisco a sailor says they were smashed and sank by a monster. Harpooner Ned Land (KirK Douglas) makes fun of him and is hit over the head, starting a brawl in the street. Police arrest Ned. Professor Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) learns the sailing was cancelled, and reporters ask him questions about the monster. The next day he shows a drawing in the newspaper to his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorres). A United States official offers them a ship to Saigon.
They sail on a ship under Captain Farragut (Ted de Corsia) and search for the monster. After a month they see dolphins and then a whale. Farragut says he is abandoning the search. On deck Ned sings, “A Whale of a Tale.” They see a ship that explodes and sinks. They see a submarine ship coming toward them and shoot cannons at it. The ship retreats and comes back and rams them. Their ship lists.
Pierre and Conseil cling to part of a mast. They climb on a metal ship. They go down steps, and Pierre enters the elegant captain’s cabin. Ned comes aboard. The three find no people. Pierre sees the crew under water with air tanks conducting a funeral. The three get in a small boat and try to fight off the crew in armored suits until they are captured. Captain Nemo (James Mason) allows Pierre to remain because he has heard of him. Pierre pleads for the other two. Nemo tells Pierre he has much to learn about the sea. Pierre chooses his friends over Nemo, who orders the ship to dive with the three outside. After they are covered with water, he surfaces and orders them rescued.
Nemo has a pet seal and welcomes the three for dinner from the sea. Nemo invites them to go hunting on an island. Nemo tells Pierre he tested his loyalty to his fellows. The hunting is under water in air suits. The crew gathers food. Pierre and Nemo explore a sunken ship. Ned finds a treasure chest. A shark attacks and is shot by a spear-gun. Ned complains they left behind the chest, but Nemo shows him his large cache of treasure. Pierre warns Ned not to antagonize Nemo, but Ned wants to take over the ship. Pierre asks Ned to help his approach.
Pierre writes in his diary while Nemo plays the organ. Ned makes a guitar and steals jewelry. Nemo shows Pierre how the ship is propelled by atomic energy. Nemo says he is free on the ocean floor.
Pierre and Nemo go ashore and see a prison camp loading minerals for war. Nemo says he and his crew escaped from there. Nemo says he built his ship, the Nautilus, at Volcania. Nemo sends Pierre below and prepares to sink a ship. Nemo commands the ramming of the ship, which explodes and sinks. Angry Ned tells Pierre that Nemo is a monster. Pierre calls Nemo a murderer and a hypocrite. Nemo says he is the avenger because his wife and son were tortured to death. Nemo says hate can fill the heart, and Pierre feels sorry for him.
Pierre tells Conseil that the world has a use for Nemo. Conseil joins Ned and tells him they are headed for Volcania. While Nemo and his crew are under water, Ned looks for the plans and avoids the first mate (Robert J. Wilke). Ned finds a map of the south Pacific. Ned writes messages to put in bottles. He throws away specimens and drinks the alcohol. Ned throws bottles overboard.
The Nautilus runs aground off New Guinea, but Pierre declines to go ashore. Conseil and Ned ask Nemo to go ashore, and he warns them of cannibals. Ned goes into the jungle and sees skulls. He hears drums and runs back. Conseil takes off in the boat. Black natives chase Ned, who gets to the boat and starts rowing. The natives launch canoes. The two return to the Nautilus. Nemo lets the natives come on board and then shocks them with electricity. They all flee. Nemo says Ned disobeyed again, and he makes him a prisoner. Nemo sees a warship, and it shoots cannons at them. Nautilus is hit and goes underwater. Water comes into Nautilus and shuts down the power. Nemo directs repair work. Ned is in a room filled with water and escapes through the ceiling hatch. Nemo orders the engines started, and they proceed.
Nemo tells Pierre and Conseil that they are deeper than man has ever been. They see a giant squid, which attacks the ship. Nemo instructs the crew how to fight it. An arm of the squid enters the hold. Nemo and the crew fight outside. Nemo harpoons the squid and is grabbed. The crew fights the arms with axes. Ned breaks out of the brig and throws a harpoon at the squid’s head. Then he uses a knife to free Nemo and rescues him. Nemo asks him why he saved his life.
Ned gets drunk and plays with the seal. Pierre asks Nemo why he took his journal. Nemo implies he is superior to Ned, but Pierre sees it the other way. Nemo hoped Pierre would be his emissary and says he has energy to lift mankind.The first mate tells Nemo warships are ahead. They see soldiers advancing on Volcania. Nemo says everything must be destroyed before they get there.
Nautilus comes up in the central lagoon. As soldiers reach the ridge and begin shooting, Nemo goes to the power station. Ned tries to make the soldiers stop shooting. Pierre blames Ned for summoning them. Nemo leaves the power station and returns to the ship and is wounded in the back. He orders the ship to dive and steers through the tunnels. Nemo staggers to his room and tells the crew he has taken the Nautilus down for the last time. Nemo says an explosion will destroy his island, but they will die in peace. Ned protests and is restrained by the crew. Pierre pleads for the future, and Nemo agrees it will happen in God’s time. Ned escapes by knocking out two guards. He gets the ship moving, and then he fights the first mate, knocking him out. Ned leads Conseil and Pierre out. Pierre wants to go back for his journal; but Ned knocks him out and carries him to the little boat. The three escape with the seal. Nemo dies. The three see the island exploding, and then the Nautilus sinks.
This science fiction adventure depicts an early metal ship that is a submarine using a basic energy for power, reflecting the current development of atomic submarines, greater weapons of war, and the exploitation of the seas. The utopian ideas of Nemo and Pierre are balanced by the natural energy and desires of Ned and the fears of Conseil.