Breening Thursday #34: “Hello Down There” from 1969

BREENED

Today is Thursday, so it is time for another Breening Thursday article. Most people don’t know what the word breening means. It comes from the verb to breen, which was coined by Variety in the 1930s to describe the unique form of self-regulation which the Production Code Administration used to help Hollywood filmmakers make movies which followed the guidelines of the Motion Picture Production Code. The verb was named after Joseph I. Breen, the Production Code administrator from the organization’s foundation in 1934 until his retirement in 1954. To learn more about the process of breening, read my article on how to breen.

AUGUST IS

August is a special month here at PEPS. Last year, we dedicated two summer months to special celebration and study on our website. This year, we repeated the practice but added the celebration of specific anniversaries. July was #CleanMovieMonth85, a month dedicated to American Breen Era films in honor of the 85th anniversary of the formation of the Production Code Administration, and August is #AMonthWithoutTheCode65. In honor, or dishonor, of the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Shurlock Era after Joseph Breen’s retirement in October of 1954, we are not watching any Code films during this month except for my weekly new Code films for my 52 Code Films series. The main way I am acknowledging this month is by publishing five special Breening Thursday articles. On each of the five Thursdays in August, I am going to breen a movie from one of the five un-Code eras. Last week, I breened a Shurlock Era film, Some Like It Hot from 1959. This week, I am going to breen a Rating System Era film.

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My film choice for the latest era is Hello Down There from 1969. It is a very early Rating System Era film, since it was released just the year after the Classification and Rating Administration replaced the Production Code Administration. It was rated G, but, like all the other G-rated films we have breened, it does not meet Code standards.

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Hello Down There is a lighthearted comedy which fully embodies the spirit of 1969 in a humorous way. It is a very silly film, yet it has underlying messages and themes which are darker than you might think. Between rock and roll, the hippie movement, and drug culture, most of the more sinister elements of society in the late 1960s can be found in this movie. Let’s briefly review the film’s plot before proceeding to my breening points.

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Fred Miller (Tony Randall) is in underwater research and exploration. He works for T. R. Hollinger (Jim Backus), a curmudgeonly older man who has little vision for anything except making money for himself. Fred has just completed a totally functioning underwater house which he calls The Green Onion. He is very proud of his futuristic, self-sufficient marine home, but T. R. thinks that he has wasted money and wants to destroy the impractical experimental house. Fred makes him promise not to tear it down until he has had a chance to test it. He volunteers his family to live in the house for thirty days in complete secrecy to see if is functional. If they fail, the house will be destroyed, and Fred will lose his job. With everything at stake, Fred goes to tell his wife what he has agreed for all of them. There is just one problem. His wife, Vivian (Janet Leigh), a wannabe writer who spends her days pounding out novels on a typewriter, is an aquaphobe. When he tells her that he has agreed for them to live in an underwater house for thirty days, she has a fit! However, she soon realizes how much it means to her husband, so she agrees, despite her fear. Now they just have to convince their children. They have two children who are nearly grown, Lorri (Kay Cole) and Tommie (Gary Tigerman). Both youngsters are in a rock and roll band, Harold and His Hangups, which was started by Lorri’s boyfriend, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Harold Webster (Richard Dreyfuss). The drummer in the band is Harold’s brother, Marvin (Lou Wagner). The young musicians think that they are on the verge of a record contract with boy millionaire and eccentric president of Stentorian Records, Nate Ashbury (Roddy McDowall). Lorri and Tommy are horrified by the thought of going away for a month and leaving Harold without two “hangups,” so their parents suggest they bring the Webster boys along. They agree, and the six leave in a submarine for their underwater abode. During their aquatic adventure, the Millers face skepticism from the boss, sharks, a rival employee (Ken Berry) who steals their compressed oxygen, and a hurricane. Meanwhile, the Hangups are using Myrtle Ruth (Charlotte Rae), their alcoholic housekeeper, to transport their new sea-themed recordings to Nate Ashbury for approval. When he likes their song about a goldfish, they find themselves in a jam, since they are unable to go ashore for a television special with Merv Griffin. Will they lose their big opportunity? Will the Millers be able to complete the test successfully? Will Fred lose his job because of Mr. Hollister’s lack of vision? Will the U. S. Navy crash the “fishy underwater pad” in search of a secret weapon? Watch the movie to find out! You may want to watch the movie first and then review my notes on the film, since I will extensively discuss plot points. If you would rather read my points before you see this movie, read on. Let the breening begin!

In one of the movie’s first scenes, Fred goes into Mr. Hollister’s office. In the anteroom, there is a secretary. She is wearing a brown dress with a very short skirt. Her skirt should reach at least to her knees.

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In the next scene, Fred goes home. He finds his house full of raucous and obnoxious rock and roll music, which is being enthusiastically played by his children and their two bandmates. This breening point is a very difficult one, since it is almost a core problem. Intrinsically, rock and roll music is in violation of the Code. It became very popular during the early Shurlock Era with icons like Elvis and the Beatles. However, it was considered scandalous by many parents and moralists of all ages. The pounding beat was considered savage, and the music became known as devil’s music. By 1969, this sort of music was deeply ingrained in American culture. The father and Mr. Hollinger display hostility toward the music, but the rest of the adults join in the “fun.” Ultimately, T. R. is made to look like a stuffy old snob because he doesn’t like the “stentorian” entertainment. This is actually a core adjustment, but I am convinced that we must change the rock and roll element.

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Instead of a rock and roll band, Harold and His Hangups should be a swing band, playing jazz music. Instead of disliking the raucous modern music, Fred should dislike the fact that the band insists on playing the same trite song over and over at top volume. Some of the songs they write underwater, such as “Hey, Little Goldfish” and “Glub,” would be acceptable if the rock beat were changed to a swing beat and the orchestration were changed. Harold could still sing, but he should play the saxophone instead of the guitar, but not while he is singing, naturally. Marvin should still play the drums. Tommie should play the string bass, and Lorri should play the guitar. Tommie and Lorri can sing if they want to. If Mr. Hollinger doesn’t like their music, it will now make him seem like an old grouch who just hates music, rather than a conservative older gentleman who is a “square” because he doesn’t like rock and roll.

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The other problem with the young musicians is their attire. The two Webster boys wear very eclectic clothes with a peculiarly Eastern theme. Marvin’s clothing is especially strange, since he looks completely Indian; he even wears a turban! This detail alone reveals how much Eastern style, religion, and ideology had invaded American culture by this point. Isn’t it ironic that this style was ingrained in Geoffrey Shurlock’s upbringing decades earlier, since he was raised in the theosophical community Lomaland? Anyway, I think that the young people should be wearing more American clothes. If they want to have a jazzy style, that’s fine. However, they shouldn’t look Eastern. Also, the young men’s hair should be a little shorter.

Along those lines, the first time we see Lorri, when Fred comes home, she is wearing a yellow dress which is much too short. Her skirt should reach to her knees.

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In this same scene, we meet Myrtle Ruth, the family’s strange maid. She is a stout middle-aged woman who loves the children’s rock and roll, dances convulsively to it, uses the latest slang, wears colorful but mismatched clothing, and frequently takes plentiful swigs out of the bottle of alcohol which she calls her “tonic.” There are some unacceptable elements about this character. Firstly, her attraction to the music is excessive, but that has been fixed since the music is no longer rock and roll. Secondly, her dancing is very jerky and savage, but that is less of an issue now that the band is playing swing music. She can dance to their music as long as she doesn’t shake a lot and doesn’t move her body too convulsively. Thirdly, she is depicted as an alcoholic, but her drunkenness and her frequent imbibing are played for comedy. I hardly think it is funny to show a middle-aged spinster who has to make her own living by being a maid and probably was driven to drink by loneliness. She pretends that she’s still young by embracing modern culture, but her drink just helps her to ignore the reality of her situation. Myrtle Ruth should not be depicted as a drunk. She should not be shown drinking out of a bottle, and there should be no references to her tonic. She can be sort of a silly, crazy maid who loves to have a good time and likes dancing to swing music. That would be funny and acceptable.

Fred goes into another room to find his wife, Viv. She is busily writing her book. He reads over her shoulder that it is a story about a harem. She has cotton in her ears to block out the band’s music, so she can’t really hear what Fred is saying. She says that she’ll be with him in a minute. She just has to finish the “seduction scene.” The word seduction is unacceptably suggestive. Although we know nothing about the story she is writing, the words harem and seduction, when combined, put strange ideas in our minds. She should just say that she wants to finish the scene.

When Viv comes out later in the scene, we see that she is wearing a short blue dress which looks more like a long man’s shirt. Not only does it indecently reveal her legs, it is very unattractive. Instead, she should be wearing some pretty but decent dress which would be more complementing to her figure, such as the styles she wore in her 1950s films.

Image result for Hello Down There 1969 Janet Leigh

Viv’s attire needs its own paragraph, since it has some general problems. Instead of feminine dresses and flattering 1950s housewife clothing, Viv wears very strange and unattractive clothes for much of this film. She wears tight pants and tailored shirts or limp, straight dresses which do nothing for her figure and make her look less womanly. Also, she wears very short hair, which looks almost mannish. She should have a more feminine hairstyle and wear clothes to match.

When Viv expresses her fear and horror at the idea of living in an underwater house, Fred asks her how she can know until she’s tried it. She replies, “I’ve never tried cutting my wrist because something inside me says, ‘Drop the razor, Viv.’” This reference to suicide by cutting one’s wrist with a razor is completely unnecessary and very graphic. Instead, she should suggest some other crazy thing she’s never tried, like skydiving or mountain climbing.

Image result for Hello Down There 1969 Roddy McDowall

Soon, Harold and His Hangups go to visit Nate Ashbury of Stentorian Records to play a recording of their latest song for him, “I Do Love You.” Nate Ashbury is a character who needs some revision. Firstly, he is a “boy” millionaire who owns a record company. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is his stereotypical depiction as a hippie and rock and roll person. With his long hair and poorly disguised British accent, he seems like a Beatle. His strange Indian coat makes him look very hippie-like, and his bizarre slang adds to this idea. Also, his odd but laid-back attitude makes one wonder if he is on drugs. As if that isn’t enough, the filmmakers chose to very subtly name him Nate Ashbury, a direct play on Haight Asbury, the San Francisco hotspot of the hippie movement in the 1960s. This character needs some significant changes. Firstly, his name should be something different, like Nate Ashton, Bill Ashbury, or something which is completely unrelated. Secondly, he should wear normal clothes and have a decent haircut. Thirdly, he shouldn’t use such excessive slang. Fourthly, he shouldn’t act so strangely sedate, implying that he is on drugs. He should be more youthful, enthusiastic, and eccentric, but not in a hippieish sort of way. Some acceptable form of eccentricity should be developed for him.

Image result for Hello Down There 1969 Lee Meredith

Nate Ashbury has a female assistant named Dr. Wells (Lee Meredith). She operates a giant computer called “The Brain Machine” which assesses the vibrations in music to determine whether or not a song will be a success. Dr. Wells is a very attractive and very buxom blonde who always wears a hot pink dress which is belted to show her voluptuous figure and is so short that it just barely reaches her thighs. The idea that this woman is very intelligent and educated is quite implausible. Harold says, “I think she’s a ding-a-ling,” and I have to agree with him. Of course, there are the obvious problems with this character, such as her extremely indecent dress. However, the whole situation with her is suggestive. I am inclined to say that Dr. Wells should be replaced with a male character who operates the computer. If she remains a female character, I think she should not be a blonde bombshell. She should be shorter, less voluptuous, and more studious in appearance.

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During this first interview, Dr. Wells thinks that Nate is doubting the accuracy of her computer and its calculations. He flirtatiously replies, “Oh, doctor, you know I’m just wild about every tube in your gassy little think tank.” Firstly, the italicized slang adjective is a bit vulgar. Secondly, the whole line just plays into the unacceptable situation with Dr. Wells which we have already eliminated. The whole exchange should be removed.

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Later, we see Fred and Viv at home again. After reacting very unreasonably, Viv is sorry. To make up with Fred, she comes out in a black negligee, looking very pretty and forgiving. Fortunately, this negligee is totally decent. As a matter of fact, it is the best outfit she wears in the whole film, since it is very feminine. As Viv apologizes and Fred forgives her, they kiss. Their kiss is a little long and excessive. Although they are a happily married couple who love each other, which is wonderful, this kiss should be a little shorter and more restrained in nature, as kissing was during the Breen Era.

Image result for Hello Down There 1969 Kay Cole

Then, the children come home, and their parents must tell them about their plans for underwater housing. In this scene, Lorri is wearing a blue dress with an unacceptably short skirt. This skirt should be lengthened to her knees.

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In the Green Onion, Viv enjoys listening to the band. She dances to the music, and, like Myrtle Ruth, her dancing is jerky and indecently isolated. It is quite indecorous, especially for a mature woman like her, who is a wife and mother. Since the music has been changed to swing music, which doesn’t stimulate the baser element like rock and roll does, her dancing would be less likely to be unacceptable. Her dancing should be restrained and not too jerky.

Not long after the family has gotten settled in the Green Onion, a sea lion comes in during the middle of the night, crawls into the shower, and turns on the water. The water spills over the sides and sets off the house’s leak alarm. The loud alarm awakens Fred and Viv. When they wake up, we see that they are sleeping in the same bed. Due to the British aversion to seeing couples, even if married, in bed together, the Code generally forbade a man and woman to be shown sleeping together. They should be sleeping in twin beds instead.

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In the panic to get aboard the submarine because Fred thinks the house has sprung a leak, Viv falls in the water. After she climbs out, her soaked pajamas cling indecently to her body, particularly her ample figure. The pajamas should be thicker so that they don’t cling to her figure so much.

The mischievous sea lion eventually becomes a family pet, and they name her Gladys. When Mel Cheever (Ken Berry), Fred’s rival employee who is also testing an underwater invention, runs out of compressed air, he decides to steal some from the Green Onion. When he does this, one of the house’s stilt-like legs lowers significantly, altering the equilibrium of the dwelling. As this happens, chaos ensues inside. The clothes dryer bursts open, and clothes fly out. One of the garments we see is a brassiere, which gets stuck on Gladys’s neck. This intimate female undergarment should not be shown on the screen, on or off a woman. It should be replaced with some acceptable item, such as a blouse.

As the house is thrown into a turmoil, Viv is leaning over. Some of the clothes fly out of the dryer and stick to her posterior. This is quite vulgar. They should stick to her stomach or her face instead.

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After this incident, Viv wants to leave. Fred begs her not to go, and she agrees to stay for the sake of the children, since she doesn’t want him to lose his job. When he tries to embrace her out of gratitude, she says, “Stay out of the Fun Zone.” She goes on to say that she will stay, “But no dividends.” Obviously, she means to punish him by denying him any affection or romantic attention. I think she is being unreasonable, but that’s not the point. The lines about staying out of the “Fun Zone” and not granting any “dividends” are quite suggestive. Instead, she should say something like, “I’ll stay, but don’t expect me to bubble over with love for you.”

Image result for hello down there 1969 Charlotte Rae

The band is desperate to get one of their latest recordings to Nate Ashbury, so they secretly arrange for Tommy to meet Myrtle Ruth at the surface. As the housekeeper waits in a rowboat for Tommy to appear, she drinks from her bottle. Then, Duke, their pet dolphin, appears with Tommy by the boat’s side. Myrtle Ruth hears Tommy greeting her, but she just sees the dolphin, so she thinks he is talking to her. Frightened, she looks at her bottle and says, “They must be putting LSD in this stuff!” She happily kisses her bottle a moment later when she realizes that Tommy actually was talking to her. This reference to drugs is highly unacceptable. However, the elimination of Myrtle Ruth’s drunkenness removes the possibility of the bottle in the first place, so the unacceptable line is no longer a problem. It has already been removed.

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Later, Fred complains that his children always play obnoxious rock and roll music. He wonders why they can’t occasionally play something that he and Viv can enjoy. He begins singing “Just One More Chance” and encourages the musicians to join in. They start grudgingly accompanying him with a dull beat. However, they quickly pick up speed. Before long, they are playing a rock accompaniment that isn’t even in time with Fred’s singing. Down to the touches of sea creatures hiding in their holes, the film is making a none too subtle point that this kind of music is not as enjoyable as the rock and roll that the Hangups usually play. Granted, Tony Randall’s singing is slightly comical, but that’s a nice old 1930s song, and I don’t think they should be making fun of it. With the band’s new identity as a swing band, this isn’t relevant anymore. This scenario should be removed.

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When the band plays “Just One More Chance,” we see a nearby US Navy ship. The sonar picks up the sound of the band’s playing, which sounds like a strangely musical beeping to them. The sailors puzzle over what the odd sound could be. They suggest to each other that it could be some sort of a secret weapon. This is a running side scenario which continues throughout the movie, with officers of higher and higher rank being consulted. This subplot is completely unrelated to the central story line, and it is really just a waste of time. I think that it is a disrespectful depiction of a branch of our military, since it makes our Armed Forces look foolish. This element should be removed from the plot. If anyone picks up the signal, it should be some civilian sailors with a shortwave radio or something like that.

Image result for hello down there 1969 roddy mcdowall

In a later scene, Nate Ashbury lies on his back on the floor while listening to one of the Hangups’ records. His eyes are closed, and he is holding a flower over his chest. This is both bizarre and macabre. He should be sitting in a chair rather than lying on the floor like a corpse.

In reference to the music, Myrtle Ruth lists several superlative slang adjectives as a translation. The three words she mentions are mellow, gassy, and neat. The second of these words, as mentioned before, is vulgar. It should be replaced with something like swell.

When Mr. Ashbury plays the Hangups’ recording of “Hey, Little Goldfish” in his brain machine, it almost explodes! The doctor informs him that it has a score of 1.27, which is over 100%! In disbelief, Mr. Ashbury says, “Oh, doctor, I think you have been smoking my bananas.” This line is a reference to smoking illegal drugs. It should be deleted. Instead, he should say something like, “Oh, doctor, I don’t think that you are at all well.”

In this scene, Nate Ashbury is wearing yellow pants which are much too tight. I already referred to the necessary revision of his bizarre attire. However, no matter what he wears, his pants must not be too tight.

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After Myrtle Ruth mysteriously refers to the fact that the band is out of town, she leaves in a rush to get them a message. However, Nate calls down to one of his associates to follow her. He refers to her as “an old chick.” This is in poor taste. Instead, he should say something like “a funny old woman.”

Image result for hello down there 1969 richard dreyfuss

When the young musicians learn that they have a chance to be on the Merv Griffin show, they decide that they can’t miss the opportunity. They decide that Harold can drive the submarine to get them to the surface. Little do they know that the surface is tumultuous because of a hurricane. Harold’s submarine operation abilities also leave a lot to be desired. As the vessel gets frighteningly near the rocks, the young people say, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” This is unacceptable, since they are taking God’s name in vain. Instead, they should say some acceptable substitute like gosh.

Although the friends’ voyage is unsuccessful, they still get their big break, since Nate Ashbury brings the Merv Griffin show to the Green Onion! In this scene, all the men’s trousers are too tight. They should all be changed to an acceptable looseness.

Image result for hello down there 1969 Jim Backus

T. R. comes with the film crew, and he is very angry that Fred brought the Webster boys along without letting their parents know where they were going. He begins scolding Fred for his conduct. He calls him irresponsible and then searches for another word. Just then, Myrtle Ruth loudly admires the undersea house, exclaiming, “Gassy!” Taking this as a prompt, T. R. finishes, “And gassy!” Gassy should be replaced with dreamy in this case. It should also replace the later usage of gassy.

Later, Merv Griffin announces the band, using the expression “stoned on them.” This is an unacceptable reference to drug intoxication. It should be replaced with something like “sold on them.”

Later in his announcement speech, Merv Griffin says, “The lead chick is so wigged out, she’s out of sight.” This reference to the young lady is quite demeaning, and it is especially inappropriate because it is spoken by an older gentleman like Mr. Griffin. Instead of using slang words like chick and wigged out, he should say something like, “the lead girl is so terrific.”

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When the young musicians begin to play, Merv Griffin begins dancing around. He looks extremely immature and silly. Soon, everyone else begins dancing, including T. R. Their dancing is goofy and a little on the savage side, since they are shaking and gyrating. It is in especially bad taste for people of their ages, who should be more mature. However, the dancing wouldn’t be so basic if it were to swing music instead of rock and roll. Thus, the dancing should be changed to fit the music.

During the movie’s end credits, the theme song is played. For the first time, we hear the lyrics. In one of them, the man describes his girl as “edible.” This is in rather poor taste. The adjective used to describe her has to be a word which rhymes with incredible. A suitable phrase would be “In fact, she is weddable.” I don’t think the rhyming word is a real word, but it would be suitable in lyrics. (It means capable of being married.)

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That concludes my breening of this film! It is an entertaining movie, but it lacks a lot of substance. Unfortunately, in the place of quality film material, there is a lot of superfluous unacceptability. I think my breening showed that it wouldn’t be too hard to make a Code-compliant film out of this movie. What is shows most of all, however, is how thoroughly film morality had declined by the beginning of the Rating System Era. The Shurlock Era had seen so much moral degeneration that a G-rated film from 1969 was miles away from a basic good Code film.

Have an Enlightening #AMonthWithoutTheCode65!

AUGUST IS

By the way, please join our month-long study of un-Code films, #AMonthWithoutTheCode65! Throughout August we are not going to watch any American Breen Era films (except for our weekly new Code films), and we are inviting participants to do the same. Writers can join this celebration with articles about their opinions and discoveries about films that were not breened during the month, and we will republish them on our website. What have we learned during sixty-five years without Joseph Breen’s Code enforcement?


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