I had no plans to review a shark film this week. But after a particularly draining week of work, the only things that soothes my post-work nerves are sharks and a few too many glasses of cheap wine. I decided to return to the pre-Jaws era for this Sharksploitation entry with a slow-paced but strangely entertaining film shot in mid-revolution Cuba.
USA, 1956, Jerry Hopper
A classic shark movie protagonist, Staves fucking hates sharks. He witnessed many of his old navy pals get eaten by the fishy bastards. Staves will do anything to get his repellent out in the field. He bullies levelheaded Lt. Commander Leonard Evans (Philip Coolidge) to bypass standard testing procedures and even offers himself as a human test subject. His shark-rage is only strengthened when local boy and expert shark-spotter Carlos (Rafael Campos) falls overboard and is torn to pieces by the blood-hungry sharks.
The Sharkfighters is oddly kind of okay. I’d heard little about this film other than that it was shot in a very turbulent Cuba, which automatically makes it at least a bit interesting. Though it’s nothing special, it’s the perfect midday movie: comfortingly slow with moments of minor action, super tanned middle-aged men, boats and an overly lively score from Jerome Moross.
Perhaps it was the wine, but I found The Sharkfighters weirdly difficult to follow at times, despite the simplicity of the plot. There’s a lot of impassioned mumbling and arguing. But as Victor Mature’s obsession gets more intense, the direction the film is heading becomes more obvious and its story far more engaging. Mature, with his sad, droopy-eyed face, makes for an ideal Ahab-esque lead.
Though I was expecting more talk than shark action, I must say the sharky scenes are pretty well handled. Real sharks are thrown into the mix, circling actors uncomfortably closely. And though they’re not Bruce size, these scenes are rather suspenseful. The scene where Carlos is chowed down on is particularly impressive (and surprisingly gruesome for a mid-50s studio-produced flick) and the fin-filled finale is great fun.
The Sharkfighters is definitely worth a whirl for those who can handle a slightly more subdued sharkfest. There’s no sharks taking down helicopters. There’s not exploding barrels. There’s not a sharknado in sight. Instead we have a simple, enjoyable tale of a man who hates sharks and will stop at nothing to repel them. I dug it. And, as a side note, I really want to read the Dell comic adaptation.