I don’t remember exactly when I saw Peter Yates’ The Deep, the movie based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same title, for the first time. I know where I saw it – in an open-air movie place in Diano Marina, while on vacation with my family. A movie about the sea, in a seaside movie theater.
It was 1978 or something.
I am absolutely sure that my devastating crush for Jacqueline Bisset has its deepest roots in this movie.
Now, I re-watched it yesterday afternoon, in a pause in my writing, while I enjoyed a big serving of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream.
And truth to be told, with the exception of the underwater footage and Jacqueline Bisset (yes, I’ve still got that crush), this is not a particularly good movie.
It was filmed two years after Jaws, but it does not have the stopping power and the persistence of Spielberg’s movie.
When it’s all said and done, it’s a story that would fit Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys – a vacationing couple (Bisset and Nick Nolte) go treasure diving and stumble on a load of wartime morphine.
This tickles the interest of a local drug lord (Lou Gosset) and a local treasure hunter (Robert Shaw). A survivor of the original shipwreck (Eli Wallach) tags along.
And yes, the casting is absolutely impressive – which is a pity, considering how the plot drags. And it’s a pity, too, because it has a lot of pulpy goodness: sunken ships, criminal overlords, Haitian magic, treasure hunters…
And Robert Shaw sports a very cool white linen eight-panel hat (I’m notoriously an eight-panel enthusiast).
But there are the underwater scenes, to grant our viewing pleasure – starting with the eight-minutes plus opening sequence, that features Bisset’s now infamous wet T-shirt.
The T-shirt that made the movie a success, according to the producer.
And yet, back in 1978 (or maybe it was 1979), I remember that what thrilled me the most, in those opening scenes, was not Bisset’s charms (silly boy!) but the caption that opens the movie.
To a kid in the 1970s, that was the name of mystery and adventure at sea – the Sea of Lost Ships, the Devil’s Triangle. Charles Berlitz’ book had come out in 1974, and we all had read it,and then discussed it, in school, during break,and during our long rambles, in the deserted streets of our neighborhoods, during our summer afternoons.
I must still have my Italian-language paperback copy here somewhere – it’s so worn, dog-eared and used, it looks like a piece of floatsam itself.
So, Benchley’s novel (published in ’76) cashed in on the Bermuda Triangle fad, and the following year Yates’ movie cashed in on Jacqueline Bisset’s wet t-shirt.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
But there was a moment, yesterday, as I watched this movie and was saying to myself no wonder I almost completely forgot about this one, when something came back and hit me right between the eyes.
Because there’s a this frame, 40 minutes in, as Shaw and Nolte prepare to dive by night on the relic, when we get a nice shot of their boat.
It’s called Corsair.
I was frozen for a moment.
Here was a ship called Corsair, and a dive on a relic, looking for wartime treasure.
I don’t know when (or even if) my second Corsair novella, The Devil Under the Sea will be out.
My friend and publisher Michael Hudson is no longer with us, and my own Corsair is stranded in the sargasso of what-might-have-beens.
But The Devil Under the Sea is a good story, you know.
It’s about a ship called The Corsair, and a dive on a wreck, looking for wartime treasure.
Memory works in very strange ways.
As I have said, I still have a tragic crush on Jacqueline Bisset.
And yesterday I got this weird sign, this message from 1977, that maybe I should go on and keep working on my third Corsair story.
I don’t believe in signs, but I think I’ll heed this one.