THE DEEP—-audience-pleasing adventure grips from the start, holds tight all the way. Vacationing couple Nick Nolte & Jacqueline Bisset, diving around an old hulk in Bermuda, find what they think might be Spanish royalty treasure. Enlisting the aid of crusty professional diver Robert Shaw to expand their search, they find there is another kind of treasure down there, a large cache of morphine, and this brings competition from a debonair Haitian cutthroat (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his gang. These rivals are none too friendly, and sundry vile means are brought to bear on the treasure hunters, from voodoo torment to baiting sharks into a feeding frenzy.
Directed by Peter Yates, with a screenplay by Peter Benchley off his best-selling novel, the 1977 thriller has suspense and chills in abundance. Bermuda is lovely, captured by Christopher Challis’ camera in seductive color. Aside from location work in that island paradise, crews filmed in Australia and the British Virgin Islands. Yates and company had plenty of time (153 days of shooting) and $9,000,000 to work with, logging a daunting 8,895 dives to capture magnificent second-unit photography from Al Giddings and Stan Waterman, making the eerie most of the perils of the reef. The feeding frenzy sequence alone took 1,080 hours to log (in the Great Barrier Reef).
John Barry’s score quietly suggests the beauteous allure and lethal languor of the aquatic world: along with his music for Thunderball his work here put him front rank among composers who’ve tackled the shimmering beauty and sudden terror of the undersea.
The action is rather violent, including a memorable locking of horns between bruisers Robert Tessier and Bob Minor, and two hackle-cracking encounters with a king-sized moray eel. Nolte, fresh off his TV triumph Rich Man, Poor Man, in his first major film role at 35, is handsome, credible and likable and Bisset, apart from the infamous stunner opener with the clinging-T-shirt, gives a solid performance: bright and assured, she never looked more ravishing. Shaw is first rate as always and Gossett makes a slick villain.
Critics threw it back, but the public took the bait: making $$47,300,000, it was the years 8th biggest winner. Producer Peter Guber’s comment: “That tee-shirt made me a rich man.” I clearly recall that the audience I saw it with was duly impressed. 123 minutes, with Eli Wallach, Dick Anthony Williams and Earl Maynard. It hooked an Oscar nomination for Best Sound. “Anyway, rum’s not drinkin’, it’s survivin‘!”