' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Run Silent Run Deep (1958)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday's Old Fashioned: Run Silent Run Deep (1958)

If there were not mounds of evidence to the contrary, one might suspect the submarine was invented solely as a dramatic device. What could be more perfect than a cramped, potentially claustrophobic, military submersible armed with missiles tracking and being tracked by opposing military submersibles armed with missiles? From "49th Parallel" to "Das Boot" to Harrison Ford speaking with a Russian accent in "K-19: The Widowmaker", the submarine has provided for endless movie fodder.


So maybe that is why a submarine film from 1958, "Run Silent Run Deep," directed by Robert Wise, and a submarine film from 1995, "Crimson Tide," directed by Tony Scott, could share so much in common. How many stories are there to be found in such compressed quarters? And so, thirty-seven years apart, we find a commanding officer - Clark Gable & Gene Hackman - butting heads with a second-in-command - Burt Lancaster & Denzel Washington - as war, respectively, rages and threatens. And yet, amidst the many similarities, there are notable differences that manage to set the two films apart (and not I'm just talking about the old school direction of Wise and the typical Tony Scott-ian frenzy).

Gable is Commander P.J. Richardson who in the opening scene of "Run Silent Run Deep" has his precious sub sunk by a Japanese destroyer in the dreaded Bungo Straits at the height of WWII. He is assigned a desk job in Pearl Harbor but persuades the powers-that-be to give him another crack at sub command. He gets it, ahead of Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe (Lancaster) who was under the impression he was next in line for the commander's job. Alas. So, the two men are at odds from the moment the sub leaves port.

Those odds increase when Richardson puts he and the men through unusual drills that seem to suggest they are going to disobey orders to avoid the dreaded Bungo Straits and plow straight into them. And wouldn't you know it, that's just what Richardson has in store. What was it Gene Hackman said in "Crimson Tide"? Ah yes. "What'd you think, son? That I was just some crazy old coot, putting everyone in harm's way as I yelled 'Yee Haw!?'" But is that really what Richardson is doing?


Even as nuclear war with Russia looms in "Crimson Tide", the film is less about that potential conflict than the onboard conflict between Hackman and Washington's characters. It turns into, more or less, a mutiny, crew members taking sides, shouting and hollering and two great actors acting. "Run Silent Run Deep", while still featuring great acting, is less about the showdown between two differing men than......

Remember that scene in "Saving Private Ryan" when Tom Hanks' Captain Miller decides to deviate from their mission to, you know, save Private Ryan to take out the German position at the radar station which leads to a minor philosophical debate? "Run Silent Run Deep" is a little like that as a whole, but still with all the usual submarine hijinks (depth charges and such) accounted for.

Their specific orders are not to enter the Bungo Straits but isn't the ultimate goal to win the war? If it is, don't they have a duty to themselves to venture onward? These are the questions raised and bickered about and what truly sets Lancaster's character apart from Washington's is that he stands by his Captain even as they disagree. And then when an injury hangs up Commander Richardson and places Lieutenant Bledsoe in charge, Bledsoe still comes around to a different way of thinking.

That's the difference and, maybe, just maybe, telling of the two eras in which the movies are set. "Crimson Tide" runs on the fuel of stubbornness while "Run Silent Run Deep" is about forging an alliance - an acrimonious alliance, perhaps, but an alliance nonetheless.

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