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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

'Hello Down There:' 'Lost in Space' Meets 'The Partridge Family"

Hello Down There (PMT)
Warner  Archive's DVD release of the 1969 Tony Randall/Janet Leigh far out comedy "Hello Down There" is a Gen Xer's dream. This genuine camp classic has everything from an all-star cast of '60s and '70s sitcom legends to a groovy teen rock band and even a friendly playful seal. There is also a shark attack but no reports of Split Enz.

To save space, millenials are directed to Google the above reference and any others that they do not understand.

Beyond all that, the best endorsement is that "Hello Down There" is the only film or television show that has EVER evoked a smile literally from beginning to end.

The plot revolves around "The Odd Couple's" Tony Randall convincing his boss, played by Jim Backus of "Mr. Magoo" and "Gilligan's Island" (as well as some film starring James Dean) fame, to allow Randall's character to temporarily move Randall's nuclear family into the horrendously expensive $200,000 underwater home that Randall designed. The stakes are that the project will be scrapped and that Randall may be canned faster than a dolphin in a tuna net if the family does not last a month in the genuinely groovy underwater pad.

One wryly humorous obstacle is that Randall's wife, played by "Psycho's" shower victim Janet Leigh, is very afraid of water. On a related note, Leigh offers audience the terrific treat of recreating her famous scream from "Psycho."

Randall also faces opposition from his teen offspring, who are members of a band fronted by an incredibly surprisingly happy and non-neurotic Richard Dreyfuss. Seeing Dreyfuss smile and act youthfully enthusiastic is terrific.

Wonderfully goofy character actor Lou Wagner plays Dreyfuss' wonderfully goofy and extraordinarily adorkable younger brother, who is the group's largely silent drummer.

The kids' objection relates to being isolated at a time that a record company, headed by the hilariously named Nate Ashbury, is launching their career. A shockingly out-of-sight Roddy McDowall plays Ashbury.

The solution to the kids' problem is to have Dreyfuss' and Wagner's characters join the family in the experiment so that the kids can continue rocking out. Leigh's Shirley Partridge hairstyle and tendency to groove out on the kids' sounds adds to the "The Partridge Family" feel of "Hello Down There."

Although the kids' song "Glub, Glub, Glub" and its lyric "I'm drowning in a sea of love" has occupied brain space since mid-70s Sunday afternoon television viewings of "Hello Down There," Mr. Dreyfuss' supposedly improvised opus "Hey Little Goldfish" is infinitely catchier and will be remembered for at least the next 30 years. Nothing can beat the lyrics "put your fin in mine," "the starfish will burn bright tonight," and "we'll have a whale of a time."

The following video shows the awesomenes of "Goldfish" and inspires shouts of "DORY!" and "CRUSH!" (Alas, no Nemo.)

The additional terrestrial threats to the experiment's success include the navy's Cold War paranoid thinking that Randall's operation is a Soviet threat. The fun casting related to that subplot is that truly legendary comedian of "The Phil Silvers Show" Harvey Lembeck, who is also the father of now-TV director Michael "Kaptain Kool" Lembeck, is one of the naval officers. 

Additionally, "F Troop's" Ken Berry plays a rare bad guy role as Randall's colleague who is operating an undersea mining operation that is competing with the undersea home for their company's support. Arnold Stang, whose many roles include providing the voice of the Sgt. Bilko-like Hanna-Barbera star Top Cat, plays Berry's stooge.

Nemesis of Joan "The B****" Collins Charlotte Rae rounds out the "TV Land" dream cast in a role that may have inspired Collins to ask "who is that old sea cow?" Rae plays the very Edna Garrettesque housekeeper/quasi-house mother of Randall's family.

Finally, legendary talks show host and "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" creator Merv Griffin plays himself in one of the film's best scenes that brings together virtually the entire cast. One wonders if fellow afternoon chat show host Mike Douglas was unavailable.

Anyone who still does not get the message to run, do not walk, to get a copy of "Hello Down There" is explicitly advised to do so now.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Hello Down There" is welcome to email me. Please also feel free to interact via Twitter by accessing @tvdvdguy.