Movie: Assault on a Queen (1966)

In 1966’s Assault on a Queen, you’ll see Frank Sinatra as you’ve never seen him before: as one of those goofy deep-sea diver figurines some people put at the bottom of an aquarium.  I was just disappointed his objective wasn’t one of those tiny treasure chests where the lid occasionally opens, with a burst of bubbles escaping from it.

Instead, he is headed towards a German submarine that has been on the ocean floor off the Bahamas since WWII.  Using only a crowbar, Sinatra opens the sub’s escape hatch with ease.  Yes, he somehow readily opens a hatch on a vessel that had been at the bottom of the sea for over two decades, despite not appearing to have any superpowers.  This happens in an instant, but then we spent way too long watching him struggling to get his oxygen tanks through the open hatch.

That type of bad editing is one of many elements here which had me suspecting nobody involved in this production could be bothered to care.  It’s obvious Sinatra doesn’t.  I didn’t think one could discern a difference between his extreme nonchalance in such films as Oceans 11 and complete apathy, but here we are. 

I suspect somebody had that film in mind when they floating (so to speak) the idea for this one past the chairman of the board (diving board, in this case).  It’s a heist film and it is set on and in the ocean.  Alas, instead of the Rat Pack, you get…I don’t know, the lesser rodent pack in Oceans 6.

In this heist alongside Sinatra, you have Errol John as his apparent best friend and right-hand man.  Then there’s Alf Kjellin, a WWII vet who, like Sinatra’s character, also served on a submarine, though for the other team.  Richard Conte plays a suspicious character who is a wiz at repairing subs.  The weakest link in the organization is Anthony Franciosa, as a hot-headed, openly racist asshole whose treasure hunting expedition resulted in the discovery of the German sub.  Rounding out the cast is Virna Lisi as his girl, though not for long after she gets an eyeful of Sinatra.

The ridiculous plan is to raise the sub, fully recondition it, then use it to intercept the Queen Mary and raid its vaults.  At no point did I believe any elements of the heist.  For that matter, I don’t believe they would have been able to raise the sub, let alone get it to a hangar without anybody noticing.  And I almost forgot: they do this in broad daylight.  Even though I’m not an expert on anything regarding boats or submarines, it is the film’s responsibility to convince laypeople such as myself that what we’re shown is possible. 

If this had been done with any amount of humor or self-awareness, I might have been able to cut it some slack.  Instead, this is dreadfully dull and serious affair, and hindered even further by the excessively dialog-heavy script by Rod Serling.  I was surprised he had a hand in this, as the characters are largely prone to monologues full of pronouncements vague enough that some people might mistake them for having depth.

There was exactly one moment I chuckled at which was intended to be humorous, and that is when Franciosa seriously underestimates the weight of cases full of gold bars.  I was reminded of the failed game show Gold Case from the show 30 Rock.

Of the cast, John is the most interesting, though he has little more to do than to be Sinatra’s sounding board and straight man.  To the script’s credit, Lisi’s character has more say on matters than I would have expected, as she is the person who literally controls the purse strings.  Still, I wonder why, if she was the one funding Franciosa’s treasure hunting expedition, why did she tolerate any of his boorish behavior?

I find it interesting to consider the era in which Assault on a Queen was made.  The Beatles had been a global phenomenon for two years, and the next year would bring the psychedelic summer of love.  And yet we have this curiously square movie, a relic of an earlier time and seemingly so hopeless that even it’s star couldn’t be bothered to care. 

Dir: Jack Donohue

Starring Frank Sintra, Virna Lisi, Errol John

Watched on Olive Films blu-ray