Diving deep to find some submarine film treasures

Actor Sean Connery played a Russian submarine commander in The Hunt For Red October.

Actor Sean Connery played a Russian submarine commander in The Hunt For Red October.

Submarine films.

Starting with a movie about early attempts to change how war at sea was conducted, and that was by designing the first submarine, the ‘Hunley’. The story concerns events from the American Civil War, and are recounted in the made-for-television movie The Hunley of 1999, starring Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland. The submarine killed 13 of its own Confederate soldiers during trials (including Horace Hunley, the sub designer) and eight more in combat, but it succeeded in sinking a Union warship, the first victim of underwater combat! Worth viewing.

A fine movie about submarines is 1981’s Das Boot starring Jurgen Prochnow in the role that made him a superstar. The movie details the combat patrols of the World War II German U-boat U-96 with some successes and a lot of danger. The movie was based on a 1973 German novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim. The film is an example of German film-making having a huge international success. Very definitely worth watching!

The Enemy Below is a 1957 production detailing a duel between an American destroyer escort commanded by Robert Mitchum and a U-boat commanded by Curt Jurgens, who in real life was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II. The film won an Academy Award for Special Effects. It is an engaging but unreal story. Very definitely worth viewing for entertainment.

The Hunt For Red October is a 1990 major movie release starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, and James Earl Jones: Fabulous cast! The Red October is a new type of Soviet submarine. Her commander plans to defect to the United States with all of the advanced technologies. Intrigue follows as plans go astray, making for some drama and action. Based on the novel by Tom Clancy and directed by John McTiernan, this movie is lots of fun. I recommend it.

Gray Lady Down, 1978, concerns the USS Neptune, commanded by Charlton Heston. This submarine is hit by a freighter in heavy fog. The sub sinks to a great depth, where it lodges on an undersea ledge. The attempts at rescue follow. The cast also includes Stacy Keach, David Carradine , Ned Beatty, and first-time movie appearance by Christopher Reeve! This isn’t a classic, but it is entertaining.

K-19: The Widowmaker is a 2002 thriller featuring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson. K-19 is the first Soviet ballistic missile nuclear submarine commissioned, and, of course, trouble results. The sub has a minor malfunction, but problems just won’t stop. The ship’s officers even debate turning to NATO forces for help. This was a $100 million dollar independent production that succeeded in bringing in only some $75 million! So that was the real disaster!! It is worth seeing.

We Dive At Dawn was a 1943 British production about an English submarine in World War II which penetrates the Baltic Sea and sinks a major German battleship, The Brandenburg. The sub’s interior layout is silly; the mission ridiculous; the success most unlikely. But it is a great film for the acting (with John Mills) and the exploration of English ‘pluck’. I enjoyed it, even though I hesitate to endorse it.

Finally, what I consider the best submarine film of all: 1958’s Run Silent Run Deep.  The setting of this film is the Pacific not too long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie stars Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster at their very best. There is a great supporting cast, including Don Rickles in his film debut!

A Japanese destroyer has sunk four American subs in the Bungo Straits, including Gable’s previous command. Gable takes command of Lancaster’s sub and goes on patrol. This is a tremendous film – see it!

Periscope down! More great submarine movies

Actor Sean Connery portrays Quatermain in a scene from the new action adventure film "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" in this undated publicity photograph.  The film is set in an alternate Victorian Age world where a group of famous contemporary fantasy and adventure characters team up on a secret mission.

Actor Sean Connery portrays Quatermain in a scene from the new action adventure film “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” in this undated publicity photograph.  The film is set in an alternate Victorian Age world where a group of famous contemporary fantasy and adventure characters team up on a secret mission.

We continue our look at submarine movies, as there are quite a number of them!

Crimson Tide, 1995, stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, along with a list of fine supporting actors. The plot concerns an American nuclear submarine and the conflict between the Captain (Hackman) and his Executive Officer (Washington) about launching missiles at a Soviet missile base. I thought the plot was contrived, but the movie is enjoyable for the acting and action.

1951’s Submarine Command has submarines in it, but this fiction is really about the impact of World War II combat. It has a fine cast with William Holden, Nancy Olson, William Bendix and Darryl Hickman. The plot concerns a terrible incident near the end of the War, and the trauma this incident has left behind – sort of an early post-traumatic stress syndrome film before that malady was even diagnosed! I hesitate to recommend this film even though I enjoyed it. Not to everyone’s taste.

A truly fabulous sub movie is On The Beach, 1959, with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire, directed by Stanley Kramer, based on a Nevil Shute novel. This is a story about the end of the world after an atomic war. I loved both the book and the movie. The movie is fascinating, dramatic and thought-provoking. It was a huge hit. It is still fun to watch, even though much of it is quite passé. I strongly recommend it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) is a mythic tale of superheroes fighting evil. It stars Sean Connery. His band of super heroes travels the world in a fantastic submarine, and they fight to end a horrible plot by Professor Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes’ fame. I liked the movie for its action, for Connery, for the Victorian era setting, and for the film’s originality. Worth watching if you are the kind who likes comic books, as I often do!

Yet another fine submarine movie is The Bedford Incident, 1965, with Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, and James MacArthur. This is the story of a fictional Cold War incident involving an American destroyer and a Soviet submarine. The two vessels are caught up in a standoff, and tension is high. This is a fine movie with a riveting plot, excellent acting, and superb setting. Dated, but still well worth watching!

In 1961, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was released, starring Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Eden, and Joan Fontaine, directed by Irwin Allen, who seemed to specialize in disaster films. The movie tells of the saving of the world by a state-of-the-art underwater vessel. It is sheer entertainment. I never did care for it, but it did well at the box office.

1966’s Fantastic Voyage was a similar science fiction film. It starred Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, and Donald Pleasance. This time, the submarine is a miniaturized version, which is injected in a human body to perform lifesaving surgery on a Cold War scientist. This film is as bad as Voyage, but somehow seems to work better. Try it; I think you will enjoy it.

Ice Station Zebra is a 1968 Cold War era movie about an American nuclear submarine tasked with travelling under the Arctic ice to retrieve a satellite capsule. The movie has stars such as Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, and Ernest Borgnine, and is based on an Alistair MacLean novel. The movie has the requisite confrontation with Soviet forces. It is quite entertaining and was well made. It also seemed to strongly convey the sense of the Cold War. Still fun to watch, but drags a bit.

Finally, the submarine movie to end all sub movies! 1968’s Yellow Submarine is an animated, fantasy movie based on the Beatles and their music. The blue meanies attack a music-loving paradise under the sea, and they must be resisted by cartoon heroes with the voices of the Beatles at the height of their careers!

Source – Daily Herald Tribune


1 thought on “Diving deep to find some submarine film treasures

  1. Craig

    Hi, love the post. I’m a big fan of submarine films, Das Boot (1981) being my favourite of all time with K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) running a close second, I particularly though Harrison Ford performed amazingly. Sadly sub movies are a bit few and far between now, though one called Phantom was released this year which is very much worth a watch.


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