Latitude Zero (1969)

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Directed by Ishiro Honda

Run Time: 89 minutes

Tagline: Discover the incredible world of tomorrow…15 miles straight down at LATITUDE ZERO!

The sci-fi world of the late 60’s saw a number of weird Anglo-Japanese mutations spring to life, like the terrifying space-born menace, The Green Slime. And just as wondrously, the 1969 fantasia about an enlightened genius, his super-submarine, and an undersea Shangri-la called Latitude Zero.

By contemporary standards a lush fantasy production, Latitude Zero boasted a crew of Toho Studio All Stars including composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, and effects Grand-Meister Eiji Tusburaya. But that’s not all, for the two leads are none other than Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero! And they speak in English! That’s because Toho, reaching out to the international market, brought in none other than Ted Sherdeman, writer of the giant-bug classic Them! In fact, the movie is an adaptation of a popular 1941 radio serial he wrote for NBC. I dug up an article on that serial published in Time Magazine, and it includes this charming vignette, “Responsible for dreaming up Latitude Zero is a thin, bespectacled wag name Ted Elton Sherdeman…Nobody is more amused by Latitude Zero than Ted…During rehearsals, which are gagged up to the limit by the cast, he sits amiably giggling at his delirious brain child.”

Delirious is certainly the right word. Probably even more for the groovy Japanese update than for the original. And while I somehow missed all the fun when it first beached on America’s shores back in 1970, thanks to the DVD release from Media Blasters I’m now able to have a complete psychedelic super-submarine flashback, and you’re invited along!

THE PLOT
Latitude Zero opens, appropriately enough, at Latitude Zero (i.e., the equator). It is here, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that intrepid scientists Ken Tashiro (Akira Takarada) and Jules Masson (Masumi Okada), along with intrepid reporter Perry Lawton (Richard Jaeckel) descend into the inky depths in a diving bell to study deep sea currents. Before a submarine volcano erupts and all hell breaks lose we note that Takarada and Okada are speaking phonetically learned English in their own voices! Green Slime veteran (!) Jaeckel’s English is more fluid, though spoken with a heavy American accent. Ha ha! Sorry Richard. (And actually, Okada’s English sounds pretty good. I think he could really speak it.)

After some neat explosions send our heroes hurtling past all hope of rescue from their research vessel, things start getting groovy when they regain consciousness in a golden sick bay, and moments later a young blonde in a mini-skirt/bikini combo appears and introduces herself as Dr. Anne Barton (former Miss Miami Linda Haynes). Thus are we introduced to medical care in the liberated World of Tomorrow!

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The doctor is in! (rimshot.)

Things get even wilder when Tashiro and Lawton reach the bridge of the super submarine Alpha. Here’s who they meet:

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Captain Craig McKenzie (Joseph Cotton!). Scientific genius and adventurer extraordinaire, McKenzie displays his relaxed confidence by rejecting several hundred years of uptight fashion advice. Note how the sophistication of the green silk kerchief offsets the brute force of the gold chains and plunging neckline.
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Kobo. Brave, loyal, and strong as an ox, Kobo is McKenzie’s “assistant.” Here he sports his customary outfit of golden muscle vest with matching golden armbands. A neatly trimmed beard completes his “don’t mess with me” look.

Watching this scene, slack-jawed, I realized that somehow Latitude Zero had warped the space-time continuum to channel my own secret fantasies of manly adventure mixed with space-age interiors and shiny, skin-revealing fabrics. Einstein could probably explain it, but I can’t.

But getting back to the story, Capt. McKenzie proves himself an adept tease as ace reporter Lawton peppers him with unreasonable questions like “where are we?” and “who are you?” Oh sure, he explains that the crew of the Alpha have given up their various nationalities to become “neutral.” But when asked to explain a plaque that claims the Alpha was launched in 1805 replies, “What?”

Lawton
(It’s a) joke right?

McKenzie
No.

Tashiro
But the first successful submarine wasn’t built until the 1880’s.

McKenzie
Not quite accurate doctor. A Dutchman named Van Drebbel in the service of King James of England built the first submersible that was powered by 12 oarsmen. They rowed it in the Thames at a depth of nearly 15 feet. The year of…1620!

Bested in debate, Lawton and Tashiro drop the subject – for who now can doubt the plausibility of a 500-foot steel super sub being launched in 1805? Take that skeptics of the world! But while McKenzie attempts to return to his study of the undersea volcano, he is prevented by Dr. Barton’s news that Jules Masson needs medical care she can’t provide aboard the Alpha. So McKenzie nobly, if reluctantly sets course for a secret base located at the intersection of Latitude Zero and the International Dateline. (You know, that kind of seems like a cool place to put a secret utopia. I don’t know why.)

But setting off for home rings alarm bells in Blood Rock, the headquarters of McKenzie’s brilliant arch nemesis Malek (Cesar Romero!) Aided by his sultry, amorous sidekick Lucretia (Patricia Medina), Malek is determined to out do McKenzie in everyway, including dress!

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Being a super villain, Malek has an understandable weakness for red leather, white satin – and rooms seemingly designed to break down the resistance of prisoners.
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It’s the little touches that matter most when making a dramatic entrance, and Malek sets himself apart from the crowd with silver pants, thigh-high black leather boots, and a flowing skirt.
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Bitter at being less flamboyantly dressed than Malek, Lucretia takes the first of many, many drinks.

Alerted to McKenzie’s new course, Malek orders his own super sub the Black Shark, captained by the fabulously pony-tailed Kroiga, to sink the Alpha.

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Leather mini-skirts may seem like a good idea when dressing the crew of an evil submarine. But trust me, they won’t thank you for it.
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More successful is Captain Kroiga’s traditional dominatrix get-up. And it’s nice to see someone who really enjoys her work!
NOTE: The handsome fellow on the left, all dolled up to look like a cheap gangster, is none other than Ultraman’s alter ego Susumu Kurobe. For some reason, Toho liked to give him small “henchman” roles with few or no lines. Even after he starred in Ultraman.

What follows is a classic duel between two pieces of Toho “Super Science.” I’d describe all the astounding maneuvers McKenzie’s specially modified sub pulls to outwit the powerful Black Shark, only words couldn’t do it justice. So let’s cut past the chase and jump to the Alpha’s arrival at Latitude Zero. There, protected by a glowing electronic shield of light, the Alpha and her crew are safe from the depredations of the Black Shark – for the time being. Mu ha ha ha!

Safely inside the barrier McKensie starts teasing Lawton again, casually mentioning that 100 years ago he and Malik were fellow students together. Pressed by Lawton, McKenzie triumphantly admits to being 204 years old, surely for the pleasure of seeing the reaction.

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Lawton’s reaction.

And frankly, if I looked as good as McKenzie at 204, I’d also find a way to work that bit into most of my conversations. For example, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 93 years since I first read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past!”

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McKenzie is 204 years young, and he feels good about himself!

Once out of the Alpha, and with Dr. Barton taking the still unconscious Masson to the hospital, we and the crew are treated to some deluxe Toho eye-candy with a tour of Latitude Zero. Accompanied by Ifukube’s soulful music, this sequence has a touchingly idealistic quality to it.

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The incredible World of Tomorrow!

Then we get to the philosophical heart of Latitude Zero as the cynical and worldly Lawton duels with Captain “I love people” McKenzie. Oh boy.

Lawton
Who does (Latitude Zero) belong to?

McKenzie
The people who live here.

Lawton
Who runs it? Something like this can’t operate all by itself!

McKenzie
Mr. Lawton, are you a cynic by nature, or because of your profession?

Lawton
I’m a realist.

McKenzie
We are the realists. That’s why we’re not political here. Politics are only needed by people incapable of running their own lives.

Well. There you have it. And I think this is a good time for those of us who still “need” politics to bow our heads in shame…There, now that we’ve been chastened, lets get back to the eye candy!

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Latitude Zero begins to work its altruistic magic on Lawton as he returns a towel to a typical resident. (Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave!)
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More typical residents. And while the babes are hot, the guys have yet to be infected by gym culture. And look out the window – no it isn’t a feminist jumping from a ledge – it’s another babe jumping for joy on a trampoline!

But Lawton, leaving the towel lady behind, falls back to earth and proves himself a hard case indeed.

Lawton
I’m sorry, but a place like this just cannot run itself.

McKenzie
Maybe you’ll never understand. But when greed is made meaningless, then there is no reason for one to seek power over his neighbors. Or to become, as you would put it, top dog.

Moments later McKenzie explains that they can cheaply extract gold from seawater, and Lawton discovers a cache of diamonds dumped into a planter as mere decoration. McKenzie smiles indulgently as the foolish Lawton feverishly stuffs a handful of the “priceless” jewels into a small bag. Oh Lawton, when will you learn? When!

Oh well, let’s leave Lawton and Tashiro to enjoy the gourmet wonders provided by the volunteer-staffed “central kitchen” and check back in at Malek’s place, where it’s always Happy Hour!

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Bottoms up!

Ironically however, Malek and Lucretia are not happy, what with McKenzie’s infuriating escape from the Black Shark. Worse, a certain Dr. Okada, inventor of a vaccine that provides immunity to radioactivity (!) has escaped kidnap by Malek’s Tokyo agents. But while down, Malek isn’t out. He concocts a brilliant scheme to (successfully) kidnap Okada and his daughter, and then use them to lure McKenzie to Blood Rock. With an evil chuckle he has Lucretia put Captain Kroiga on the mission, after which he plans to “retire” her. Why? Because Lucretia can’t stand her (meeaaooww!) and he, well, I guess he just enjoys being evil. Just like McKenzie enjoys being a fashion-forward dresser.

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McKenzie demonstrates his early mastery of bling, while the car model on the desk forebodes the immanent arrival of the Ford Pinto.

Alas, McKenzie is so busy showing off Latitude Zero to his new guests, Malek and Kroiga get the opening they need to hijack Okada off an ocean liner. And you know what that means, don’t you? Happy Hour Part Two!

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Lesh drink a toasht – too successh!

This leaves our stalwart company of heroes, including a completely healed Jules Masson, no choice but to dress up in shiny gold jump suits and head off to Blood Rock to rescue Okada. – After stripping down and soaking in the “bath of immunity” that is. “The what!?” I hear you ask. The “bath of immunity.” It’s simple really. You merely submerge yourself in scientifically treated water for a count of three, and you become impervious to things like fire, bullets, and heavy boulders – for a period of 24 hours. Any more questions? – I didn’t think so.

Back on Blood Rock it’s Happy Hour Part Three as Malek attempts to pry out the secret of Dr. Okada’s serum over drinks. Alas, Okada is seemingly immune to this perfidious technique.

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Dr. Okada resists the Happy Hour Treatment. Even more disturbingly, no one is touching their drinks!

This leaves Malek no choice but to go to Plan B; mystifying brain transplant surgery! Actually, Malek seems pretty happy to go to Plan B. In fact, he seems like the kind of guy who’s always looking for an excuse to perform mystifying brain transplant surgery. This isn’t meant as a slur on his character though. It’s just an observation.

WARNING: The following section of this review contains graphic images that may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised.

Making good on his intention to “retire” Kroiga, Malek cruelly imprisons her, than has her wheeled into an operating room along with a stuffed plush toy lion and a marionette condor. As the captive Okada and his daughter look on in horror, Malek then begins his fiendish experiment.

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Even the horror of an insane brain transplant can’t override Lucretia’s commitment to fashion. Here she assists Malek in a slinky red pantsuit, with matching necklace and earrings. Bloodstains don’t show up on red velvet, I guess.
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Unconcerned with such mundane matters as bloodstains, Malek chooses a bold white and yellow ensemble. The freakish man-bat-thing at the foot of the table appears to be naked.

As the horror of the operating room proceeds, we cut away to see the Alpha breach surface just off shore of Blood Rock. As the (all male) rescue party prepares to go ashore we witness a tender scene when Dr. Barton bids farewell to Jules Masson, whom she apparently fell in love with when he was unconscious from a head wound…Paging the A.MA. Paging the A.M.A.!

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Passion breaks out at Latitude Zero!

Meanwhile, fifteen minutes after the operation has begun Malek’s mysterious purpose, and his insane genius, become apparent when we see the amazing beast he has created.

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A plush-lion griffin with condor wings and a human brain! And the freakish man-bat-thing is still naked.

Gleefully triumphant, and under the interesting assumption that the powerful creature he has just created with Kroiga’s brain will obey his every whim, Malek sends the griffin off to kill McKenzie and his crew. That done, he shifts his malevolent attention to Okada, who is next for the operating table!

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Malek’s freakish man-bat-things seem to smile as they drag Dr. Okada off to the operating room. They like to watch.

Will McKenzie and company be able to overcome Blood Rock’s many terrible and astonishing obstacles in time to save Okada? Will the brand new, and untested, modifications McKenzie has made to the Alpha save her from destruction by the Black Shark? Only by journeying to the incredible World Of Tomorrow can you fine out!

Oh, OK, here’s a hint:

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But I’m not even mentioning the mind-exploding postscript!

Sean Ledden (Oct 2009)

Afterthoughts

Latitude Zero is, for me, another irresistible blend of fantastical design, unexplained plot points, and buoyant joie de vivre from Japan’s golden age of sci-fi fantasy. Getting into the spirit, and assisted by Shinichi Sekizawa, Ted Sherdeman acted like a gleeful mina bird, plundering the shiny bits from countless other adventure stories to feather his own nest. So we get Captain Nemo and the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the ageless utopia from Lost Horizons, and the man-beast monstrosities from The Island of Dr. Mureau, to name just a few of the “borrowed” goodies. Nothing makes sense, but who cares when you have stylish immortals, super submarines and freakish man-bat-things?

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The valiant Alpha docks at Latitude Zero.

Special Monster Shack Image Update: A close up of the “Black Shark”…we always aim to keep our visitors happy…

Black Shark

Read more about Latitude Zero at

IMDB

10 comments to Latitude Zero (1969)

  • God, I love those weird Furby-werewolf things!

  • I have got to get this one; I’ve never seen it before.

  • guts3d

    Excellent review, Sean!

  • a review penned with obvious relish; very funny – I hooted at the get-ups on master homophobe Cotton and the thigh-high boots on poor closeted Romero – and strangely enticing. Maybe I should seek this one out.

  • Raymond Hoogenboom

    Tremendously enjoyable seeing Cotton steeped thoroughly in such cheesiness! I love when that happens to renowned actors/actresses. Great picture-book story-telling, Sean. I especially like frame of Cotton feeling good about his age. He looks so backyard & neighborly!

  • Ted

    Great review, Dude. You must enjoy doing this, ’cause it’s funny as hell.

  • To be honest, I would’ve like this movie better if I saw it for the first time as a child than I did as an adult. The movie is sillier than the ‘Batman’ TV series. Still, I find it interesting that it was filmed in English by a director and a Japanese cast who don’t speak English and done a lot better than the simular ‘The Green Slime’ and ‘The X from Outer Space’.

    And the low-tech submarine volcanio effect looks a lot better than something done with CG effects done today. And of course, the submarine Black Shark looks way cool.

    Overall, on a 1 to 5 scale, I give ‘Latitude Zero’ a 3.

  • Matthew Stein

    I saw this when it was released. At the Indian Drive In Theatre in Phoenix, Az, I believe. I was 7 (oddly enough since the first comments here were from Oct 22/23 and my birthday is Oct 23, 1962). I can remember a good deal of the story without the visual aids provided. Too funny.

  • Sean

    Matthew, what a perfect way to see Latitude Zero, at the Indian Drive-In Theatre! And I completely agree that the Black Shark looks way cool. I couldn’t find a good place in the review for the screen shot, but since Todshi mentioned it Dennis was kind enough to add it after the fact. Enjoy!

  • Guts3d

    Still have to watch this one!

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