Sunday, September 18, 2016


(March 1958, U.S.)

My generation of filmgoers has seen its fair share of entertaining submarine films; from GRAY LADY DOWN (1978) to the German film DAS BOOT (1981), to THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), to CRIMSON TIDE (1995) to K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER (2002). There's way too many to cite here, and some were better than others; that's entirely up to your own opinion. My real point here is that for someone like me and the sub films I was "raised" on, watching a black and white film of the genre is, indeed, a different experience - perhaps even a better one. On the other hand, because RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP is a World War II film, the black and white factor makes sense and works perfectly. The fact that its helmed by two such classic veteran actors as Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster makes it all the more worthwhile. The story describes submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean, and deals with themes of courage, loyalty, honor, and vengeance, and how these can all be put to their ultimate test during wartime. The story manages to combine an intriguing combination of elements borrowed from both Herman Melville's MOBY DICK and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (the 1935 film also starring Clark Gable).

Determined to sink a Japanese destroyer, Commander P.J. Richardson (played by Gable) manages to persuade the Navy Board to give him a new submarine command under the condition that his executive officer be someone who has just returned from active sea patrol. He single-mindedly trains the crew of his new boat, the USS Nerka, to return to the Bungo Straits too seek out their enemies. Executive officer, Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe (played by Lancaster), is worried about the safety of the boat and its crew. Repeatedly drilling the crew on a rapid bow shot, the intense training inevitably pays off when such a daring shot manages to sink a Japanese destroyer. Despite this victory, the crew is outraged to discover that Richardson is evading legitimate targets in order to enter the Bungo Straits undetected in direct violation of his mission orders. When Richardson is later incapacitating in an accident, their submarine narrowly dodges what the crew mistakenly believes is one of their own torpedoes doubling back on them. By deciding to send up equipment, blankets, and dead bodies from the sub, they deceive the Japanese into believing that the United States sub has been sunk. Bledsoe uses Richardson's injury to assume command and ultimately brings victory to their mission be destroying their enemies, just before Richardson dies from his injuries. In a symbolic and poignant moment, the body of the boat's brave commander is committed to the sea.

Without getting into too many colorful adjectives or descriptions, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP is a straightforward all-male and all-submarine undersea adventure. The showdowns between the United States and its Japanese enemies during a time of war are tense and nail-biting. In short, the film follows all textbook elements that make a great submarine film; those that came before it and those that came after (the mutiny element surely borrowed later for CRIMSON TIDE). Still, the film contains its own share of accurate depictions of torpedo attacks being arranged with periscope sightings, as well as range and bearing calculations. Director Robert Wise apparently had real submariners working with the cast until they could realistically depict the complexities of such torpedo attacks. It's been said that submarine veterans of World War II who viewed the film remarked on the accuracy of these sequences, the scenes providing modern-day audiences with a view of what life was truly like aboard submarines during the war. That sort of accuracy and its effect on those who served can only be respected and admired. Though I have to admit, I can't help but sneer and snicker when I look at what was considered to be state-of-the-art special effects of this film by using miniature submarines for certain battle scenes. The shots are cheap looking, but I suppose they couldn't be expected to do any better during the latter part of the 1950s.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Lietenant Jim Bledsoe (presiding at a funeral of the submarine commander) "It's thirty-eight days now since we left Pearl Harbor. I know how some of us felt then. I think I know how some of us feel now. But let no one here, no one aboard this boat, ever say we didn't have a captain. Unto almighty God we commend the soul of our shipmate departed...and we commit his body to the deep, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life, when the sea shall give up her dead in the life of the world to come."

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