Krakatoa: East of Java (1968)

  • Year: 1968
  • Released: 14 May 1969
  • Country: United States
  • Adwords: Nominated for 1 Oscar. 1 nomination total
  • IMDb:
  • Rotten Tomatoes:
  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: G
  • Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
  • Runtime: 131 min
  • Writer: Cliff Gould, Bernard Gordon
  • Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
  • Cast: Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, Brian Keith
  • Keywords: 19th century, disaster, disaster movie, volcano, todd-ao,
0% – Critics
28% – Audience

Krakatoa: East of Java Storyline

The Dutch East Indies, in the late 19th century. Capt. Hanson of the “Batavia Queen” is preparing to embark on a salvage expedition. His mistress, Laura, knows the location of a ship belonging to her late husband, a shipwreck concealing a cargo of rare pearls. A diver and a diving bell are aboard ship. But a government agent coerces Hanson into accepting a shipment of convicts for the ship’s hold. The wreck lies dangerously close to the erupting volcano on the island of Krakatoa, where Laura’s young son attends the convent school…

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Krakatoa: East of Java Movie Reviews

Overblown Adventure Story

Back in the early Fifties, Republic Pictures made a feature film Fair Wind to Java that featured the Krakatoa volcanic eruption and explosion that was a B film and didn’t pretend anything else. Too bad the era of B films was at an end when this one came out.

Don’t get me wrong, Krakatoa, East of Java had great special effects, but it would have been nice if there had been a story worthy of those effects.

Captain Maximilian Schell is using his tramp steamer to go on a diving expedition to recover lost pearls. He has to locate the ship that they went down in so Max is prepared. He’s got a father and son team of balloonists, Rossano Brazzi and Sal Mineo, a deep sea diver Brian Keith and his sweetheart Barbara Werle and Diane Baker who is the widow of the guy who lost the pearls in the first place.

And then the Dutch authorities decide he’s to take on a gang of convicts for transportation. Their leader, J.D. Cannon is a former mate on Schell’s ship and Schell out of friendship gives him the freedom of the deck.

I’ll stop here because this thing gets dumber as it goes along. Why in heaven’s name would Schell even take his ship out looking for riches with a group of convicts on is beyond me. If the authorities insisted he take them, I’d have dropped the convicts where they were to go first and then gone for the pearls. Or maybe not taken the thing out at all. And surely not have given Cannon the freedom of the deck. What a moron.

Why Brian Keith has Barbara along also doesn’t make sense. Maybe he don’t trust her to behave, but his reasons are obscure. And director Bernard Kowalski gives Werle a musical number. Whose decision was that to include it in the film? It’s not even that good.

In a recent biography of Sal Mineo, the author recounts that when this film was having its premiere in Honolulu, Mineo walked out of the premiere, proclaiming to one and all what a piece of trash this film was. I probably think Sal knew it, but at the time he needed the dough.

Maximilian Schell is a fine actor, but action adventure hero he’s not. Either he did this as an effort to expand his horizons or he too needed the dough.

Maybe one day someone will make a good film about Krakatoa, but this ain’t the one. And who knows, maybe that someone will correctly place Krakatoa west of Java.

The Dante’s Peak of its day

Director Bernard L. Kowalski’s resume reveals that he was more suited to television than movies, and that’s apparent in the distinct lack of grandeur that accompanies this movie. It’s a historical adventure film based on the real-life eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883 and like later, modern-era disaster epics such as THE TOWERING INFERNO the storyline gives us a bunch of characters in a single location forced to deal with the ensuing disaster staples. Unfortunately, for those of us hoping for mucho destruction, it’s not until the last half hour or so that things begin to (literally) hot up, with a plethora of miniature effects used to simulate the eruption. It doesn’t disappoint but it comes far too late.

The first hour is s-l-o-w in the extreme. The supporting characters are numerous and not drawn very well, so they end up feeling like clichés: the group of inmates you just know are going to escape at some point; the square-jawed captain with the Steve Reeves beard; the drug-addicted diver and the heroic young Italian. The movie has an episodic feel to it, with one incident following another: there’s the bit with the hot air balloon, the bit with the diving bell, the scene with the divers, then the volcano eruption at the end. When there’s stuff going on it’s enjoyable, but in-between you’ll be chomping at the bit for the next occurrence.

Casting could have been better, not that the actors have much to do. Brian Keith bags the most interesting role as the laudanum-swigging diver while Maxmilian Schell plays little more than a clean-cut one-dimensional hero type. Diane Baker is shrill and irrelevant, but Barbara Werle does better, especially in an amusing impromptu song-and-dance/striptease sequence. Other actors, like father/son team Rossano Brazzi and Sal Mineo, barely register. For instance, there just isn’t enough time to develop the latter’s romantic sub-plot with too much time spent on Baker’s uninteresting histrionics.

An overloaded mix of soap opera, disaster…and song!

Yes, there are a few minutes in this piece of convoluted trash where characters suddenly break out in song. It’s the story of a passenger ship heading to Java. Maybe the ship was heading east, but the infamous volcanic mountain is east of Java! The mistake in the title wouldn’t be so bad had there not been a song with lyrics that insisted that the volcanic island was east.

In between the bad song numbers while waiting for the impending eruption, there’s a ton of character development involving the strange captain (Brian Keith) who has sudden hallucinations, the equally handsome Maximilian Schell and Rossano Brazzi, and in fleeting appearances, the much wasted Sal Mineo. The film slowly plods along like the ship, picking up speed here and there, being appropriately cinematic, but never as suspenseful as one would hope.

Barbara Werle and Diane Baker provide the feminine beauty to add to some of the gorgeous scenery, but this is a film that focuses more on the men. A great scene has a balloon flying towards the volcano opening that results in a horrific aftermath. I just wish that they had taken more care to the story and the structure, because at just over two hours, it drags a ton and feels very shallow among such deep waters.