Sharks’ Treasure (1975)

This debut entry in the Jaws rip-off sweepstakes was directed by Hungarian-born bad-ass Cornel Wilde, the star of one of my all-time favorite TV (horror) movies: 1972’s Gargoyles, a movie that scared the stuffing out me in the day—so please take that into consideration as I come to hail Cornel Wilde, not tear him down.

Shark’s Treasure, as with his previous directing effort from five years earlier, No Blade of Grass (that took fifteen years to get made), was a long-gestating passion project that Wilde wanted to make back in 1969 but was unable to secure financing. After not getting Sharks’ Treasure produced, in conjunction with the lukewarm response to his post-apoc romp, No Blade of Grass, Wilde retreated from theatre and film—both as an actor and director—into television, which led to his gig on Gargoyles.

Then some new kid on the block by the name of Steven Spielberg created “shark fever” with some movie called Jaws.

Financing secured.

But that “new kid” got $9 million to make his movie—then grossed under $500 million. United Artists’ placed a bet of $2 million on the green felt with Wilde—and broke even.

It was Cornel Wilde’s final film as a producer, writer and director. After that, he meandered in a few TV and film roles—one was the Lee Majors-starring Viking romp, The Norseman—up until his death to leukemia in 1989, three days after his 77th birthday.

Jim Carnahan (Cornel Wilde, then 60 and doing one-arm pushups in the film) is the obligatory, hard luck sea dog who finds his dreams of a big payday in a young buck’s (David Gilliam, 1972’s Frogs* and 1976’s The Eagle Has Landed) wild story about sunken treasure off the coast of Honduras.

Now if this all sounds a lot like Antonio Margheriti’s Piranha rip-off, Killer Fish (starring, say what (?), Lee Majors!), which itself was Joe Dante’s rip-off of Jaws—then it probably is. (And it also reminds of Steward Raffill’s later High Risk**, about a filmmaker and his down-on-their-luck buddies ripping off a Honduran drug lord.)

According to Wilde, in an October 1975 interview for The Christian Science Monitor, he classified the film as a down to earth treasure hunting story with a bunch of hard-luck hustlers and ex-cons (very familiar U.S TV actors Cliff Osmond and David Canary, along with the even more familiar Yaphet Kotto) who give up everything, even their jobs, to battle pirates, sharks, and their own greed to recover treasure. In addition to his claims that the characters and incidents were based on “true accounts,” another one of his marketing points for the film was that it was “the most dangerous picture he ever worked on.”

As you can see from the film’s one-sheet, Wilde decided to attack Spielberg’s much ballyhooed mechanical shark and made sure everyone knew the shark footage in Sharks’ Treasure was 100% real and that we “will see the total shock of the most sensational shark fight ever filmed.”

Wilde was obviously going for the John Huston-directed and Humphrey Bogart-starring 1948 adventure romp, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—only with sharks and water, instead of Mexican deserts. He ended up with an AIP or Crown International Pictures’ romp—and everyone stayed away in droves.

Inspired by B&S Movies’ formulating a revisit to last year’s “Shark Week” and my re-watching Wilde’s commendable effort all these years later, I have to admit his shark romp—the first film in the coveted “Bastard Sons of Jaws” sweepstakes—the film doesn’t have the same impact as I sat in the darken duplex all those years ago. It is, in fact, a sad end to the greatness Wilde achieved with his self-made classics Beach Red, The Naked Prey, and Storm Fear, along with his acting gig in High Sierra going toe-to-toe with Humphrey Bogart.

Yes, there’s no doubt all of the underwater photography is real—and it is spectacular (Wilde upped the Spielberg game: instead of one Great White, it’s a hoard of Tiger Sharks)—but the film wrapped around it is, well, it’s like Roger Corman secured all the sets from Jaws before Universal tore ‘em down and drained the water tanks, and pumped out a shark-clone quickie.

Yeah, there’s some nice character development (i.e., Cliff Osmond, and “The Kid” that got them into this mess, David Gilliam, are ex-prison lovers; Wilde is a virility-swaggering braggart) but, yeah, the drama is overwrought. It’s hokey. It’s all very “TV Movie,” but not as TV Movie-good as Wilde’s previous acting gig in Gargoyles.

So, while Sharks’ Treasure isn’t bad, it isn’t good. And while I have a nostalgic attachment to the film, you’d probably rather watch a trashier Italian shark flick, like Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino’s shark collaboration, Monster Shark (or Devil Fish, or Red Ocean, or whatever the hell the alternate title on the VHS cover says).

Sigh. Cornell Wilde deserved better. So did Michael Sopkiw.

Say what? You need more shark and “nature run amuck” films? Then check out our last December’s shark tribute week, “Bastard Pups of Jaws,” which features everything imaginable—from 1976’s Grizzly to 1977’s Orca, and 1979’s The Great Alligator all the way out to Renny Harlin’s 1999 shark romp, Deep Blue Sea. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Drive-In Asylum’s “Summer Shark Special” issue from this past August.

*George McGowan, the director of Frogs, also directed the “Star Wars Dropping” that is The Shape of Things to Come.

**Stuart Raffill directed another “Star Wars Dropping”: The Ice Pirates.


About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

3 thoughts on “Sharks’ Treasure (1975)

  1. From IMDb:

    Cornel Wilde says he came up with the idea for the film in 1969 but could not raise the financing until after Jaws (1975) became a hit. “I would rather have had the field to ourselves, without ‘Jaws’,” he said. [Note: something is off with that statement. Jaws could not have been a hit before this movie was financed, as this movie premiered 9 weeks before Jaws was released.]

    Copyright year on this film is 1974, it can be seen in second minute of the movie.


    • Well, you make a very valid point.

      We have to remember — and this occurs in many interviews with musicians and actors — they conflate facts, skew timelines, etc., not so much on purpose, but memories fade over the years. (Was it our “Shark Weak” that made me review this? I think I did this back-to-back with SHOCK WAVES, as my mind meshes the two films together: both are “water logged,” if you will!)

      You are correct about SHARKS’ TREASURE hitting the theaters, first. You have to consider the reviews on this site — for films mostly near 50 years old: even our own nostalgia becomes skewed. I did see this in theaters as a younger man, but it’s so long ago, I can’t recall the “before Jaws, after Jaws” issue at the time (it didn’t matter to the “kid” me). I just recall — as we shown with our “Shark Weak (Week)” features: there was a glut of shark movies produced (with killer fish and octopuses and nuclear waste spawn variants) once JAWS, hit. However, when we look back at our UHF-TV and VHS youth, as we do at this site (its how we digested most films we love, more so via drive-ins or indoor duplexes), the mind’s-eye replay perspective is that — regardless of “when” SHARKS’ TREASURE was released — we affectionately (however “wrong” it/we may be) see Cornell’s shark romp as a “rip off” produced in JAWS’ wake, along with all the others. Regardless, Wilde’s romp was certainly the FIRST shark movie out of gate of the many at the time in the mid 1970s (yikes, the Italian film industry LOVED sharks; and those are remembered more than Cornell’s more expensive and better made film).

      To give this discussion an “anchor” if you will: Roger Corman was the king of beating major studios to the screens with knockoffs. As you know: all major studio films will have their productions mentioned in the trades, like Variety or Hollywood Reporter or: just simple industry scuttlebutt his the Hollywood Walk of Fame through industry people. Whatever way: Roger Corman caught wind of ROLLERBALL being made (remember, James Caan came off of THE GODFATHER and was a hot property). Corman’s response was DEATH RACE 2000 — and he beat ROLLERBALL to theaters by months.

      Universal aligning with Glen “Larsony” Larson on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is another example. Without IMDb’ing or digging deeper to confirm timelines: George Lucas was fresh off AMERICAN GRAFFITI (a HUGE HIT). So when he began work on his “Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon” homage-to-remake, it was THE ticket in town: every actor under the age of 30 auditioned for the three principal roles. So, to that end: Universal took another look at some script called “Adam’s Ark,” which, like Wilde with SHARKS’ TREASURE, was in Larson’s back pocket since the late ’60s (post 2001 is my understanding, I could be wrong; too lazy to look). The STAR WARS “greenlight” got BATTLE STAR GALACTICA into production.

      Other examples are ARMAGEDDON vs. DEEP IMPACT and TOMBSTONE vs. WYATT EARP (both which we have referenced in a few reviews). In both cases: the film that was kicked started by the production announcement of the other, beat that film into theaters — and even out boxofficed the other film. (Again, speaking off the top of my head; too lazy to go back to the old review to see how I sussed those films vs. films, out.)

      So, I think, more accurately: Spielberg was a HOT property at the time. He impressed with DUEL, a telefilm (a film about an “evil” big rig vs. a motorist, which was “shark vs. man” dry run, if you will). Then, while not much remembered today: Stephen did really well with SUGARLAND EXPRESS; thus, he had a huge industry upwind. Film producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown read the novel — Peter Benchley had that power at the time — before its publication and bought the film rights, selecting Steven Spielberg to direct the film adaptation (yes, Zanuck knew talent, even this “Speilberg” kid Tinseltown was buzzing about). It was JAWS announcement that got SHARKS’ TREASURE into production, in my opinion, now that we are looking back. United Artists wanted to compete with — even beat to theaters — Universal Studios’ JAWS, And they did.

      There’s a whole backstory to the ’50s film WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, I think, that has that same “vs.” stank on it and being beat to theaters, as I recall. . . .

      Anyway, thanks for checking out the review. It’s always nice to chat about a film a bit more deeply with our readers. Most times, you write in a vacuum: Does anyone even read my reviews or care? So, much obliged for the support! Save us the aisle seat! (LOL)


      • According to IMDb and the release dates, it looks like Sharks’ Treasure was first, but after your very good explanation all makes sense, that they heard shark movie is coming and released Sharks’ Treasure before it. I am in a phase of watchin 1975 movies, that’s the way I came to this movie and your review. I choose the year by random 🙂 Thank you for the long and very informative explanation, you are very knowledgeable about movies, kudos 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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