With the usual pompous introduction praising the great, new medium CinemaScope, Twentieth Century-Fox plunges Beneath the 12-Mile Reef. It seems like the longest dive in motion picture history, and when everyone including the fish come up for air several hours later, there is little doubt that the CinemaScope millennium has not quite arrived.
If the picture fails to achieve much originality, it is not because Terry Moore and the octopus don't try, or because Gilbert Roland and Robert Wagner aren't brave enough to meet an occasional shark. The film's real weakness is a script scarcely different from Hollywood's previous deep sea epics. Father Roland and son Wagner, Greek sponge fishermen off the Florida keys, discuss the dangers of their occupation and the terror the diver feels when approaching the reef. As Roland wistfully points out, a man can forget his fear when once dazzled by the beauty of the sea, but the reef, lying in wait to grab the unwary diver, "never forgets the man."
This is precisely what happens to the old man when he goes down for his third consecutive time, dragging the film with him. Not realizing that the picture has ended, Wagner goes on trying to conquer rival fishermen who are stealing his sponges, and Terry Moore, who has almost stolen his show.
Throughout the film's many crises, the cast carries on with feverish emotion, as though the only way to express great feeling is with a shout or a groan. The octopus alone manages to preserve his dignity, and he gets stabbed in the last reel. But despite the success of Wagner's sponge-fishing expedition, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is at best a meagre catch for the audience.