I’ve been trying to decide, as you do, whether The Deep is intentionally racist or whether that’s just an accidental impression created by some very crass plotting and characterisation.
I should perhaps explain. This isn’t merely an idle speculation brought on by too much free time (free time? ha!) but the result of two hours spent watching The Deep, a film which moves almost as slowly as Cat People and doesn’t have any of the redeeming visual flair of that movie. I had fond memories of the film, which I originally saw at the Leicester Square Theatre in 1977, and was eager to find out whether it lived up to my recollections but within ten minutes I realised that disillusionment was an inevitable as the loss of innocence and the end of summer.
The Deep is basically very dull, about as dull as a film including Jacqueline Bissett in a wet t-shirt could possibly be. Indeed, once you’ve savoured that sight, there’s not much else to do except loll in front of the screen as various bits of mild sadism and brutality are paraded in an effort to liven things up. To be fair, there’s also a wildly overacting Robert Shaw (complete with indeterminate accent which hovers between Ireland and Somerset) and an underused Eli Wallach. But Bissett, attractive as she may be, isn’t an actress and she doesn’t bother to create a character. Nick Nolte, as the beefcake interest, is a good actor under normal circumstances but he comes across here as the dumbest blonde in the Caribbean. The most engaging character is a huge moray eel with a nasty set of teeth.
The racism is largely of the old Hollywood variety in which various darkies threaten the heroes and ogle the heroine’s semi-naked body. But it’s given a nasty spin with the suggestions of voodoo and the notion that there’s something automatically suspicious about a black man with an interest antiquities. There’s one bit in which the black bad guys semi-rape Bissett during a voodoo ceremony which suggests that under every black man’s sharp suit is a savage waiting to spring out. I may simply be over-sensitive but it leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth - and it suggests that times have moved on in that such things didn’t even occur to my impeccably liberal consciousness back in 1977.
So is The Deep worth a look? Well, it’s not very bad and some of the underwater photography is very pretty. Ms. Bissett is also something of a knockout even with clothes on - you’ll note my liberal credentials don’t extend very far in the anti-sexism line. But John Barry’s score is lethargic and sets the tone for a film which someone - perhaps director Peter Yates - is taking far too seriously. It should be a romp but as the two hours drag on, it’s more like an ordeal.