Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953) Blu-ray Review: Sunken Leisure

Young Robert Wagner sinks to new depths ‒ literally ‒ in this early CinemaScope effort, now available in a beautiful, uncut, widescreen HD transfer from Twilight Time.
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The advent of CinemaScope in the 1950s brought with it many changes to Hollywood. Sadly, in the case of 20th Century Fox's 1953 Technicolor adventure film Beneath the 12-Mile Reef ‒ the third movie to be filmed in the studio's lavish new way of luring moviegoers back in theaters ‒ director Robert D. Webb seemingly forgot to include enough subject material to fill up the width of the widened screen. The story ‒ a pivoting, bore-a-minute tale pitting sponge divers against fishermen ‒ finds young Robert Wagner as the son of aged Mexican-American actor Gilbert Roland. Naturally, they're cast as a struggling pair of Greek Americans here, who run into the very familiar waters of prejudice, persecution, and perfunctory romantic subplots off the coast of Florida in the guise of buzzing WASPs.

Leading the rival clan of thieving fishermen is Have Gun, Will Travel star Richard Boone, whose already less-than-sunny disposition towards them foreign fellers wains when Wagner and his whiter-than-white daughter Terry Moore fall in love with one another. The surfacing romance also irks Boone's Number One man ‒ a pre-Mission: Impossible Peter Graves, giving a better-than-average performance in a (slightly rarer) villainous role ‒ who wants the white woman for his own. Character actor extraordinaire J. Carrol Naish (the very first live-action Batman nemesis!) also stars in this early '50s sinker from producer Robert Bassler. Future Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann provides the score for this dud, which is best remembered for Edward Cronjager's magnificent underwater cinematography.

For years, it was erroneously assumed Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was a Public Domain title, resulting in the film being released by every low-budget video label. As a result of this error, the film was only ever available in edited and horribly cropped pan-and-scan TV prints until 2013, when the Fox Cinema Archives released it to MOD DVD-R in widescreen and uncut for the first time. Several years down the road, Twilight Time has brought us what is easily the best-looking version of this early CinemaScope curiosity, presenting the filmed-in-Florida flick in an exceptionally crisp and colorful 2.55:1 aspect ratio in an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode. In fact, so good is the transfer here, I can proudly say I was finally able to stay awake throughout the whole thing for the first time.

I don't know about you, but I sure consider that a win!

Two main audio options are served up for this sunken drama, presenting viewers with the choice of a 5.1 DTS-HD MA variation of the original 4-Track Stereo release, as well as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 selection. Herrmann's isolated score receives the DTS-HD MA 2.0 treatment for this Twilight Time release, and optional English (SDH) subtitles are on-hand for this Region Free release. Surprisingly, there is no theatrical trailer included with this Limited Edition title, but fear not ‒ Twilight Time has made up for that loss by including a bonus episode of A&E's Biography revolving around Beneath the 12-Mile Reef's timeless hero, Robert Wagner. Julie Kirgo's liner notes help launch this seafarer a true Twilight Time release (as if there was any doubt), which is limited to only 3,000 units, so don't let this one float away.

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