no animals were harmed in the writing of this post

When Richard Fleischer was directing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea he came up against a few problems. One of these involved filming Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre being attacked by a shark.

Kirk with Brigitte Bardot

“Since there’s no way to work in the water with a live shark, the plan was to catch and kill one, then hook it up to a cable system so it could be pulled down through the water like a dive bomber. Everyone on the crew had a suggestion about how to kill a shark. The consensus was that you had to whack it very hard between the eyes with a ball peen hammer to kill its brain, then it had to be left out in the sun for a day to make sure it had died.


We went ahead and hit the shark on the head with a hammer, left the lifeless body on land in the hot sun for 24 hours then prepared to hook it up to the cable rig. At the last minute, I decided to wire its mouth shut with piano wire. The initial footage looked great, then Till Gabbani, the underwater cameraman agreed to use a small camera roped to the shark’s back to get a more sensational shot of the faked attack.

image found here

About halfway though the filming, with Gabbani ‘riding’ the shark and holding the camera, something strange started to happen. The shark was not going in the direction the cable was pulling, it had revived and was swimming on its own. Lunging past Douglas and Lorre, it suddenly took off and swam away, with Tills and the camera still attached to its back. He wasn’t able to free himself until the shark dived for deep water, loosening the slip knot that held the camera and rupturing both Gabbani’s eardrums before he got away

Peter Lorre found here

Fleischer hadn’t finished all the scenes he’d planned to do with the shark so he offered a substantial bonus to anyone who could bring it back. As its jaws were still wired shut it wouldn’t be dangerous. Two US Navy frogmen joined in the hunt and were the lucky finders. One of the frogmen grabbed the shark by the tail and gave it a healthy shake trying to force it to swim forward. Then he began shoving it from the side and shook its tail again

“Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder, it was his partner pointing out the open unwired mouth of the 8 foot case of mistaken identity. He had been trying to persuade the wrong shark back into the filming area. I was sitting on the barge waiting on news of the search when two frogmen exploded out of the water like beach balls and landed on the deck….. we never did find our escapee……”


These are some of the mistakes that were noticed by others after the film was released

When the natives are coming down the stairs of the Nautilus, the lead native is wearing a wedding band.

When the giant squid appears, it is swimming toward the Nautilus with its tentacles first. While squid can swim in both directions, they normally move mantle first with tentacles trailing due to much better movement through the water. Also, if the squid was moving with the tentacles in front, they would trail toward the back, not stay rigidly in front of it, like a person’s arms stretched out.


When the natives flee and get back in their boats to paddle away, a native in the foreground boat clearly uses his spear as a pole against the sea bottom to turn the boat to port. The Nautilus is just a few feet in the background; if the water was really shallow enough to pole from a boat, the Nautilus would be grounded and its deck dozens of feet above the water.

The shark that goes after Ned and Conseil is a nurse shark. This species is actually quite harmless and shy of divers.

Perhaps that’s why the frogmen lived to tell their tale……


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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. no WAY? That’s hilarious! Who the hell does this kind of thing? Flip.

    • crazy movie makers…..

  2. Poor shark! I’m glad these cruel people had so many fuck ups in the process and in the final product. Great pic of Peter Lorre, though.

    • yeah, I felt sorry for the shark too

    • That was my reaction. What about the poor shark with its jaws wired shut slowly starving to death? Sound rather horrid to me.

  3. They say the Nurse Sharks are shy and not at all fierce, sleek, streamlined creatures of glamour … not so some of the Nurses I know!

    • I can neither verify nor deny…. I’m not a “real” nurse ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Thank you for posting such an entertaining post. It made me laugh – something I really needed.

    • oh goody… my work here is done!

  5. Is that the ’emo’ Peter Lorre??

    • haha – I believe it is!

  6. So that’s what a hammerhead shark is.

  7. i loved that movie… that, and raquel welch in the white zip-front wetsuit in ‘fantastic voyage’, is why i’m a scuba diver! “Twenty thousand LEEEEEEEEEEEGUES under the SEEEEEEEEEEA” [jutting chin forward, speaking through giant gritted teeth]

  8. Serve them right for treating the shark like that. I just wish it could have bitten the producer.

  9. Too funny. Presumably the shark survived on a diet of fish soup after that….

    • hey Nota Bene – your link is dead, maybe because of the spelling?

  10. I saw a show recently about a guy who rides sharks. He swam down and grabbed the dorsal fin of a great white and let it drag him along. The trick is to find a shark that isn’t hungry. I’m not sure how he does that. Feed them first? Seems like a bad idea.

  11. I am now singing Mack the Knife – โ€œWhen the shark bitesโ€ฆโ€ โ€“ and thinking movie crews are crazy!

  12. Hollywood. The great land of fantasy and unreality.

    This post made me laugh, too. Not that my life is so stressful that I am in bad need of laughter, there’s plenty around here. But one can always use more, especially since it is so good for your heart.

  13. I nearly stopped reading at the piccy of Brigitte Bardot, luckily I read on ……. good one Nursey. I did return to the piccy of course ……..

  14. Hahahaha, just imagine how surprised the mistaken identity shark was being handled so unceremoniously.

    • hi louisa – love the photos of your little girl

  15. Why couldn’t they use lawyers instead?

  16. Hollywood crazies.

  17. I have even more respect for sharks than I had before. I wish it had taken a chunk out of a few of them. That’ll learn ’em.

  18. Gah it would have been good if the shark had taken a bite out of someone. It may habe been a nurse shark but for once it could ahve been an Nurse Ratched shark!

  19. Normally, I wouldn’t care for this type of movie. But knowing all of this makes me want to see it LOL! Gabbani’s poor eardrums, though :-(.

    • It sounds bad enough to be worth seeing doesn’t it?

  20. I haven’t seen the movie but I loved the book. The Nautilus was one of my favorite vehicles to imagine as a child. Now I shudder at the thought of being under the sea, but back then, I really wanted to be in a steam powered sub. ๐Ÿ™‚ One of the only good things about the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the depiction of the Nautilus, although the movie was okay, just not great.

    The pic of the shark submarine makes me shiver. And even though I never ever want to be near one, I feel badly for the poor starving shark.

  21. A favourite book as a youngster but I was disappointed by the movie ( oops – we had films in those days – unless we were from NSW – then we had “filums” ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  22. That’s a fantastic story! Brigitte Bardot looks like a mere child. And the inconsistencies? I’m not bothered. I give control to the director and don’t point out faults.

  23. I bet the Discovery Channel would be all over this tale for Shark Week.

  24. I want to be a shark!

  25. Looks like Peter Lorre took off his helmet on the surface of Mars, like in Total Recall.

    Also, you have to be pretty ballsy to go after a shark with just a hammer.

  26. This just reinforces what they have told me as an actor: Never work with children and animals.

  27. Hit him on the head. If they had known the structure of the shark brain, they have stayed in the boat. Too bad the shark didn’t eat ’em!

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