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……