Beneath the 12-Mile Reef follows two sponge fisherman families who war over a dangerous, deep reef that has the best sponges. Meanwhile, a young man from one family (Robert Wagner) and a young lady from the other (Terry Moore) make like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet and indulge in a forbidden romance.
LIFE Magazine followed them about for a day as they frolicked in the Pacific Ocean at home in California, 5 months before the release of the film. It's a short piece that is meant to boost Moore's stardom. "Now at 24," says the reporter, "her admirers say she is being groomed to challenge Marilyn Monroe. Terry can't see this at all. 'Marilyn,' she explains,' is an indoor girl and I am an outdoor girl.'"
Then Terry Moore must have felt right at home during the location shooting for this film.
Beneath spends several interludes underwater, engulfing you in the waters off the Florida Gulf Coast. They take advantage of the wrap-around screens of CinemaScope. These shots must have been absolutely enchanting during its first run in theaters. Even Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, never one to blandish compliments, waxes lyrical about the technical process, saying,
"Here the special color camera with the anamorphic lens goes under water to picture marine life around the tropical Florida keys and comes up with scenes of the floor of the ocean that are bigger than any of the sort you've ever seen.
"Coral reefs and jewel-colored fishes and gentlemen in bubbling diving suits loom through the opalescent water that stretches from wall to wall across the front of the theatre within the frame of the panel screen, and the inevitable octopus slithers out of the sub-aqueous gloom. Fishermen rake rubbery sponges off the ocean bed, and everything looks both large and fearful down there beneath the watery blue-green sea."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences certainly noticed and nominated this film for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.
Reviews for this film also give effusive praise to the lush score by Bernard Herrmann. Author Steven C. Smith (A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann) quotes Fox producer, Darryl Zanuck, who says,
"I thought 'Beneath the 12-Mile Reef' was one of the most original scores I have ever heard. It really gave me a thrill. The manner in which Bernard handled the underwater sequence[s] was simply thrilling. The entire picture has been enormously enhanced by this wonderful score. It gives the picture a bigness it did not originally have - yet the music never interferes but adds to the dramatic values."
Screen Beneath the 12-Mile Reef - based on a story by A. I. Bezzerides- for the cinematography and the score.
- Originally a 20th Century Fox production, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is now in the public domain. Watch it or download it for free at the Internet Archive.