3 June 2005 | Ron Oliver
Menace Above & Below The Waves
The lives of sponge divers are disrupted by the arrival of a tough cleric and the deprivations of THE SEA BAT.
It is unfortunate that this splendid little film from MGM has become so obscure as it has much to offer in the way of ambiance and good acting from an interesting cast. The production values are high and the location shooting (on Mexico's Mazatlán coast) with its glimpses of pseudo West Indies island culture add to the film's atmosphere. Director Lionel Barrymore keeps the action moving right along, with just enough requisite romance, suspenseful encounters with the hideous sea bat and a dandy fist fight near the end to keep the viewers happy.
Mexican actress Raquel Torres plays the fiery island miss who wants to escape the tragedy which has attacked her family. Silent screen star Nils Asther is her gentle, loving brother, a sponge diver. His departure from the story early on is poignant & regrettable. Disheveled George F. Marion steals most of his scenes as their disreputable father. Sturdy Charles Bickford is the no-nonsense pastor with a secret who arrives on the Island of Portuga and is quickly confronted by danger. All four give excellent performances.
Other crew members of the sponge boat are played by lecherous John Miljan, who acted the villain in many early MGM talkies; blustering Gibson Gowland, who only five years earlier had starred in von Stroheim's masterpiece GREED; and, in a tiny role, pre-celeb Boris Karloff. Silent movie comic Mack Swain portrays the owner of the island grog shop.
The giant Atlantic manta (Manta birostris), sometimes called a sea bat, is a type of devilfish and is characterized by its large flapping fins and two horny protrusions near its mouth, giving it a diabolic appearance. It lives in the warmer waters near both islands and coastlines, where it eats small fish & plankton. The Atlantic manta can grow to 23' from fin tip to fin tip and weigh up to 2,200 pounds. Despite its sinister aspect it is known -contrary to legend- to be gentle and does not attack divers.