Maurizio Baldinucci


Although “Cinema and Underwater Breathing Devices” looks a poorly understandable combination, in reality these two elements took advantages each other. The cinema indeed repeatedly used these devices in many underwater scenes from naturalistic documentaries and from action and adventure movies thrilling and involving the viewers thanks to the spectacular and fascinating of the underwater environments captured by the camera. These devices too, in particular the SCUBA equipment, could find the broad popularity reached nowadays thanks to the cinema that, with the involvement of millions of people all around the world, significantly contributed to the SCUBA diving development.

Running through the Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus (SCUBA) history again from its birth to the end of the ’70 years, some cinema and TV movies produced in that period are presented in which the application of this device has been fundamental for the making of their main underwater scenes.

The debut of the SCUBA unit in the making of underwater movies and documentaries happened in 1943 with the work "Épaves"(Wrecks), the first movie-documentary by Jacques Y. Cousteau (Fig. 1) shoot in the waters of Bandol, close to Marseilles with French Navy colleagues and friends Frederic Dumas and Philippe Tailliez (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3).

The configuration of the SCUBA units used in those first submarine scenes was the prototypal one developed by the engineer Emile Gagnan, having the regulator main body still made in phenolic resin (see Fig. 4, 5, 6 and 7). Only from 1946 on the production version of the Cousteau-Gagnan regulator, called CG-45, would have had the main body made from drawn and chromium plated brass (Fig. 8 and Fig. 9).

After that European experience, in the old continent there were no other significant underwater cinema works with use of SCUBA units until the middle of the ’50 years. Meanwhile the Cousteau-Gagnan SCUBA unit was hardly trying to penetrate and diffuse on the European market literally destroyed by six years of war, in the USA the cinema would have been the main vehicle for the knowledge propagation of this new underwater sport and the related gear among the broad audience.  The first important production along this path was “The Frogmen” in 1951, based upon the ventures of the U.S. Navy “gamma” special forces during the Second World War (Fig. 10). The SCUBA units used during the underwater scenes of that movie (see Fig. 11 and 12) were the first Aqua-Lung made in the USA by the U.S. Divers on license from La Spirotechnique and pretty identical to the CG-45 model (Fig. 13).

However the cinema production work to become a real classis for the North American diving enthusiasts was “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, an horror movie made in 1954 directed by Jack Arnold and interpreted by Richard Carlson and Julia Adams (Fig. 14).