Down to the Sea (May 30, 1936)
Released on May 30, 1936: Two Greek sponge divers from Tarpon Springs, Florida who have been friends all their life want Helen, and the rivalry may destroy them both.
Directed by Lewis D. Collins
Written by Robert Lee Johnson and Wellyn Totman.
The Actors: Russell Hardie (John Kaminas), Ben Lyon (Stevw), Ann Rutherford (Helen Pappas), Irving Pichel (Alex Fotakis), Fritz Leiber (Gregory Pappas), Vince Barnett (Hector), Maurice Murphy (Luis), Nigel De Brulier (Demetrius), Paul Porcasi (Vasilios), Victor Potel (Andy), Karl Hackett (Joe), Francisco Maran (George), Frank Yaconelli (Pete), Mike Tellegen (Cimos), John Picorri (Greek proprietor), Dorothy Ates (floozie), Fern Emmett (Horace's wife), Louis Mercier (bartender), Henry Roquemore (Horace, sponge customer).
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I visited Tarpon Springs, Florida once when I was much younger, and married to a pretty Greek girl. Tarpon Springs is where Greek men for many decades have dived for the sponges that grow there. If you are a fan of old movies, you certainly recall the movie that celebrates Epiphany, when the young Greek men dive after a golden cross, and by finding and returning it to the surface will be blessed for the coming year. As this movie opens that Easter celebration is approaching, and we meet Steve and Helen. Steve is a diver, he works on the Saint Nicholas, a small boat that goes deep into the Gulf of Mexico. He wears the heavy diving suit with an air hose attached, and collects sponges from the deep gulf waters. He is sweet on Helen, and Helen's father intends to arrange for them to be married one day. But we soon learn that Johnnie is back in town. Johnnie and Steve are lifelong friends, but Johnnie is a hooker, not a diver. The hookers dive in the shallow waters for sponges, without any breathing gear, with a long hook to quickly grab the sponges from the shallow bottom. Now, the divers and the hookers are all friendly, but under the thin layer of friendship there is a rivalry between the hookers and the divers. But Steve and Johnnie are really good friends.
Johnnie has returned to Tarpon Springs for Easter, but plans on going to college in New York, and not become a hooker for the rest of his life. On this night Steve is collecting the money gifts for the church for the Easter cross dive, and he stops at a place where he is invited inside to party with some floozies from Tampa. The next morning Johnnie finds Steve passed out cold from drinking and partying all night, and the Tampa floozies have gone and taken all of the church offerings with them. Steve will be humiliated when the community finds out that he has lost all of the money for the church, but Johnnie puts all of the money that he was saving for his college fund into the pot so that no one knows that Steve lost the money on a drunken binge. Of course, now Johnnie cannot go to college, and must remain in Tarpon Springs and dive for sponges. Helen is secretly pleased at this, because she likes Johnnie a lot more than Steve, although Johnnie doesn't seem to have any feelings for Helen.
Ah, but now we come to the meat of the story, wrapped around this amazing view of life in a Greek sponge diving town. One of the hookers is murdered, and the evidence points to Steve, a diver. Before this drama is over, there will be more death, and the lives of this small town by the sea will be changed forever. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with lots of warm melted butter, and enjoy this slice of Greece from the Florida coast town of Tarpon Springs.