A golden oldie that finally caught our attention is Warner Home Video's release of The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts in his first starring feature film role. The year was 1964 and Knotts was one of the biggest stars on American television due to his role as inept Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts would win multiple Emmys for his performance on the series but was still tempted to try his hand in a starring role on the big screen.Warner Brothers sought to capitalize on his popularity by offering him the titular role of Mr. Henry Limpet. The story finds the protagonist a mousey bookkeeper in Brooklyn who has a strange obsession with owning and studying fish. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurs, Limpet tries to enlist to fight for his country but is turned down because he can't pass the physical. Weak in body and virtually blind without his peculiar eye-glasses, Limpet feels ashamed of his apparent lack of masculinity- a weakness reinforced by his nagging wife Bessie (Carol Cook) and his best friend George (Jack Weston), who shamelessly brags that he has been accepted into the U.S. Navy. Given all his troubles in the world of humans, Henry openly wishes he could be transformed into a fish. An accidental plunge off a Brooklyn pier results in him being presumed drowned, but, in fact, Henry has achieved his wish- he is turned into a fish (amusingly with his distinctive, over-sized eyeglasses in place). Henry befriends a grumpy Hermit crab named Crusty and soon finds himself a chick magnet for the nubile Ladyfish. However, Henry has more important activities to attend to: he uses his human intelligence and his ability to emit tremendous, sonar-like roars to help the U.S. Navy thwart German U-Boat activities. He makes his presence known to his incredulous friend George and before long, Henry Limpet is the Navy's top hero and secret weapon.
It goes without saying that The Incredible Mr. Limpet isn't the equivalent of an American version of Das Boot. However, its low-brow charms are quite endearing beginning with the depiction of the animated Limpet that perfectly captures the mannerisms of Don Knotts. The rest of the animation pales in comparison to Disney work, but the film was among the first to successfully merge live action with cartoon characters. It's clear Warner Brothers gave the movie a bare-bones budget. Sets are skimpy and most of the production funding obviously went to the few scenes actually shot on U.S. Navy vessels. Knotts gives a wonderful performance and his popularity in the film led to him leave The Andy Griffith Show and establish himself as a popular leading man in family-oriented comedies such as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Reluctant Astronaut. The film also boasts some fun performances by respected characters Jack Weston and Andrew Duggan, with Carol Cook giving a sympathetic portrayal of Henry's once shrewish wife who learns to love and respect him in his new persona. As silly as the premise is, the movie makes a profound plea to children to resist bullying and accept people for who they are. Surprisingly, the movie also has some relatively blatant sexual content. "Limpet" is the name of a German mine used against Allied ships but it also very obviously is a reference to the protagonist's sexual prowess. As a fish, Henry is constantly pursued by Ladyfish, who wants to surrender her virginity to him in the "spawning" area. Okay, it's not exactly Russ Meyer, but it's fairly racy for a kid's film made in the 1960s.
The DVD includes an original trailer with a bizarre last-minute intro by Arthur Godfrey, who blatantly plugs one of the film's catchy songs that has been released as a 45RPM record. There are also some DVD-ROM features for kiddies and a wonderful original vintage featurette showing the film's "underwater" premiere in central Florida as part of an ambitious press junket. (Amusingly, the pre-Disney depiction of central Florida is that of a remote area located far from "the outside world". )
The Incredible Mr. Limpet is by no means a classic, but its a sweet-natured movie that extols timeless values. Pardon the pun, but I was hooked.