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Latitude Zero: Chapter One

June 6th, 2008

Originally posted May 7. Bumped to top of blog.

Latitude Zero opens just where you might expect: the Equator, imaginary line of mystery. A research vessel plies the Pacific waters in search of an undersea current which could be used to speed submarines on their way. Leading the expedition are Dr. Ken Tashiro (played by Akira Takarada) and Dr. Jules Masson (Masumi Okada, apparently unaware that he is not, in fact, French). With them is Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen; also Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Sometimes a Great Notion) as reporter Perry Lawton, providing pool coverage to satisfy the many tens of newspaper readers interested in comparatively rapid water.

“Would you like to sit in the smoking section of the bathysphere?” Perry flashes Ken his bedroom eyes.

In the first of many questionable costuming choices, our heroes are decked out in cute, colorful and coordinated zip jacket-and-shorts ensembles. It’s as if the expedition was outfitted by Garanimals.

Just then, the biggest underwater volcano eruption in history hits. Look at that thing: it’s even spitting lightning bolts. I give props to the Toho special effects department here for one helluva explosion. The ensuing pyrotechnics snap the bathysphere’s lifeline and toss it into a deep, ocean crevasse.

The fall not only knocks the threesome unconscious, it removes Perry’s jacket. As he lies helpless, yet oh, so enticing, mysterious divers peer in through the porthole and admire his well-groomed thatch of chest hair.

“Isn’t that Richard Jaeckel from Sands of Iwo Jima?”
“I believe so. I wish to touch him.”

The divers attach a cable to the bathysphere, which is hauled aboard an enormous submarine, the Alpha. There Perry and Ken meet ship’s doctor (and part-time pole dancer) Anne Barton, who tells them that Dr. Masson has suffered serious injury, and that go-go boots are the only cure!

As the two speculate on how they might themselves have serious injuries, they are taken to the bridge, where they meet Koubo, navigator and ship’s genie.

“Really, it’s how all the doctors dress
at the bottom of the sea.”
“I pity the fool who calls me a genie!”

There too, is the captain of the Alpha, Craig MacKenzie, played by Joseph Cotten. Cotten’s more than 40 years as a film actor included roles in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Gaslight and The Third Man.

MacKenzie is a super-scientist who designed the Alpha, which was launched–much to Perry and Ken’s astonishment–in 1805, a full 50 years before Captain Nemo set sail in the Nautilus. Yet even that is not as astonishing as MacKenzie’s appalling dress sense: chest-baring disco shirt, gold chains and green cravat.

Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph Cotten.

For every hairy-breasted yin, there must be a yang, and so it is that we suddenly find ourselves in the evil part of the ocean where squats the hideous mountain fortress Blood Rock.

Within we are introduced to Lucretia, played by Patricia Medina. Medina was Joseph Cotten’s wife at the time and was with him until his death in 1994. She too had an Orson Welles film to her credit, Mr. Arkadin.

Lucretia is the “companion” of Malic, played by, of all people, Cesar Romero. I know it’s not cool to admit this, but I’ve long felt–mustache or no mustache–Romero’s performance as the Joker was greatly underrated.

Malic and Lucretia are a curious pair: dedicated to badness, yet head over heels in love with each other. They sip wine and make goo-goo eyes while plotting the destruction of their archenemy MacKenzie.

For all their wickedness, however, Malic and Lucretia are no match for the film’s costumer, who dresses Cesar Romero in Buck Rogers cast-offs, and forces Patricia Medina to bring her own nightgowns to the set.

Back on the Alpha, Dr. Masson requires better medical care than the ship’s sick bay can provide. Captain MacKenzie sets course for his own home base, the eponymous Latitude Zero.

Anne’s doctor’s smock brings new meaning
to “bedside manner.”

But his ship is tracked by Malic’s killer submarine, the Black Shark. Its commander is a Japanese woman named Kroiga, whose vicious ponytail has sent many a mariner to his doom.

Watching the pursuit from the Blood Rock hideaway, Lucretia can’t hide her jealousy of Kroiga, though Malic is quick to declare “You’re the only woman I keep with me.” Despite this reassurance, Lucretia is delighted by her rival’s failure to bring down MacKenzie.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues, with the seemingly unarmed Alpha using its many defensive modifications–including maneuvering jets and illusionary doubles–to avoid the Black Shark’s torpedoes.

Not even a desperate ramming maneuver scratches the Alpha’s hull. It does, however, set Kroiga’s ponytail into a lethal spin, injuring three crewmen.

“Aiiieeeee!”

Looming ahead is the electronic bubble that shields Latitude Zero from its enemies. MacKenzie charges the hull of the Alpha with an “equalizer” which allows it to pass through the barrier, while the less-fortunate Black Shark bounces off.

BOIN-gggggg!

Safe for now, MacKenzie enters exposition mode and fills us in on the personal history of both he and Malic, who were students together “a century ago.” We learn that MacKenzie is 204 years old while Malic is a mere babe of 203.

Got that? Good, because there will be no elaboration on it whatsoever. We never learn where they were schooled, how they became bitter enemies, or what accounts for their incredible longevity.


Star Trek: The Intentionally Lost Episode.

Also, I’m no math whiz, but it also means that MacKenzie’s academic days occurred when he was approximately 104, and that he built the Alpha some sixty years prior to that.

Perry the journalist never puts those numbers together, but he’s quick to inquire how old that makes Dr. Barton. The Captain’s reply: “Even in Latitude Zero, gentlemen do not discuss the age of a lady.” Hilarity ensues.

And on that chivalrous note, we sign off for now, until the next thrilling chapter of Latitude Zero!

Next: There’s a hole at the bottom of the sea!

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