In my prior review of Crimson Tide (1995) – which you can read here – I wrote that it was closer to Run Silent, Run Deep than to other submarine movies it was trying to emulate. Crimson Tide featured Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as a Captain and XO of a submarine who clash with each other. In Run Silent, Run Deep it is Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster – two people who certainly know how to command the screen. Now imagine having both of them in the same movie, sometimes opposed to each other and you get an idea of why Run Silent, Run Deep is an entertaining movie.
The film takes place during WWII. It opens with a scene even before any credits. Commander Richardson (Gable) is Captain of a submarine patrolling the Bungo Straits between two of
islands. After sinking a cargo ship he
is set upon by the Japanese destroyer Akikaze and sunk. The film shows Richardson and some of his
crew surviving, although it would be very unlikely in real life. Other than this survival, which is needed in
order to drive Richardson’s motivation for the
rest of the film, and Gable being too old in real life for the position, Run
Silent, Run Deep is considered a very accurate portrayal of what life was like
onboard a U.S.
submarine during WWII.
The film then forwards to a year later. It is now 1943 and
is commanding a desk at Pearl Harbor, bored
out of his mind and obsessed with the Akikaze.
Since his loss it has also destroyed three more subs the U.S. has sent
to patrol the same area. He and an aide,
Yeoman Mueller (Jack Warden), play pretend war games in his office. There is more than little of Captain Ahab’s
obsession with the white whale in Commander Richardson and his desire to
destroy the Akikaze. So much so that
when he learns that a sub, the U.S.S. Nerka, is arriving in Pearl Harbor having
lost its Captain he goes to the Pacific Naval Board and convinces them to put
him in command of the sub, rather than promote the boat’s current XO Lt.
Bledsoe ( Lancaster). Naturally, Bledsoe is pissed at this outsider
usurping his command, but he plays nice at first.
If this plot sounds familiar it is because it has been used in several movies since. Among those is Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) with Admiral Kirk taking command of the
Enterprise away from
Captain Decker. By coincidence (or is it?)
both that film and this one were directed by Robert Wise. He didn’t write the screenplays for either
Actually, Run Silent, Run Deep was based on the 1955 novel of the same name. It was written by Commander Edward L. Beach, Jr. Beach is the real deal when it comes to submariners. He served on a sub during WWII, including being part of the Battle of Midway, and earned the Navy Cross. He achieved command of his own boat towards the end of the war. When the novel was published he was serving as the Naval Aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1959 he took command of the U.S.S. Triton, the fifth nuclear powered submarine commissioned by the
United States and in 1960 the
Triton achieved the first ever underwater circumnavigation of the globe. From this he wrote a 1962 non-fiction book
titled Around the World Submerged: The Voyage of the Triton. As most writers do he wasn’t thrilled with
everything the movie adaptation of Run Silent, Run Deep changed from his book,
which took place over the entirety of the war, not just the several months
shown in the film.
In the movie the Nerka puts to sea with orders to go to “Area 7” (presumably somewhere in the vicinity of Japan), but under no circumstances to go into the Bungo Straits where the four other subs have all been lost to the Akikaze.
Richardson drills the
crew over and over to get them to submerge and fire torpedoes in as short a
time as possible. There is grumbling
among the crew, especially because Bledsoe was much admired and they see Richardson as an
usurper. Bledsoe orders them to cool it,
but tempers flare between Yeoman Mueller, who Richardson has brought with him, and Ensign
Cartwright (Brad Dexter) who has served under Bledsoe. Making matters worse is the fact that this is
WWII and Mueller is of German heritage.
Things come to a head when the Nerka is almost destroyed when it tries to take on the Akikaze. They need time for repairs and
is driving them to re-engage in battle as soon as possible. Making matters worse is that Richardson was injured in the attacks, has a
concussion, and might literally die if he doesn’t take it easy. He tries to conceal this from Bledsoe and the
crew, though. At the urging of the other
officers, Bledsoe confines Richardson
to his quarters and takes command of the sub.
What will he do, though?
Returning to Pearl Harbor without
having used his full complement of torpedoes looks cowardly, but taking on the
Akikaze again could be suicide. And will
content to just stay in his cabin? And
unbeknownst to everyone, including the movie viewer, there is another thing
that makes the Akikaze seemingly so superior.
I will not spoil it, but it is a good reveal when we find out.
As I said at the top, both Gable and Lancaster command the screen. Both certainly made a career playing tough guys in their movies so imagine seeing them butt heads with each other. They reportedly clashed in real life, too, with
also being a producer on the film and Gable not being happy with some elements
of his character’s story arc. If so,
this only enhanced the tension in their scenes together. By the way, you will also see the first
screen appearance of Don Rickles in Run Silent, Run Deep. According to the IMDB trivia he got the role
after Frank Gorshin was injured in a car accident while driving to the screen
The only negative I have with the film is something that it cannot help. Even though its use of miniatures during the battles was state of the art and much praised at the time, it’s pretty obvious they are miniatures to a modern eye. It isn’t so bad that these tense battles become silly. It’s just apparent that they are not real.
Hopefully that would not be enough to prevent you from seeing this film. It is the third best submarine movie I have seen. If you like these kinds of films, and especially if you liked the conflict scenes in Crimson Tide, then I recommend you watch the film that inspired quite a bit of it.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars