Approved! I mean, who wouldn't approve of this? Sure, there's some old timey sexual harassment of a photograph and I'm sure that some of the terms for the Japanese aren't exactly up to code, but mostly the movie is pretty innocent. It's a WWII movie made by people who lived through WWII. Keep all of this in mind.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
I thought I saw this one before! Outside of Das Boot, most submarine movies tend to blend together. Okay, The Hunt for the Red October I haven't seen, but old timey submarine movies blend together. I mean, look at the title. Run Silent Run Deep. There's very little in the movie that makes this title necessary. This movie could have been named anything submarine-y and worked out just fine. But the point of this rambling is to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a brand new movie that was super interesting. When people don't like war movies, I kind of get it. I like war movies overall, but it isn't my favorite genre. It feels like the same ground can only be tread so many times. On top of that, especially in a case like Run Silent Run Deep, it was written by a military man. My respect for soldiers and officers, but they tend to get very technical and obsessed with accuracy versus paying attention to narrative conventions. I'm sorry that I went in to this movie with such skepticism because this movie is pretty great.
I'd like to say that Robert Wise surprises me. I always used to associate him with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While I kind of like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I also fully acknowledge that it is a direct knockoff of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only while being a hot mess. It feels like a direct-to-DVD copy of 2001, but I like it. Then I found out that he directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and I was back on board. That movie rules so hard and I think I have to give him much of the credit for why Run Silent Run Deep works so well. This movie could easily be boring as sin, but it isn't. When dealing with submarine movies, and this even applies to the sacred Das Boot, the movie tends to drag. There is one location that is swapped with an exterior shot. With older movies, like Run Silent Run Deep, those exterior shots are clearly mostly models and slightly corny special effects. It is the role of the director to keep the movie tightly paced and interesting, despite the fact that movie tricks really won't work. There's no scenario where the characters can just waltz into a discotheque and get into a fist fight while techno music blares. (This was a common practice in the '50s.) (That was a joke. I don't want this to affect Villa Madonna Academy's reputation because someone didn't get the joke.) But the story is mostly about the butting of two heads. The best stories are about two large personalities having to deal with an external conflict in very different ways. That's what drives the story. As the host of Turner Classic Movies Ben Mankiewicz stated, this is just Moby Dick with submarines. But there is a reason that Moby Dick works (and I will fight anyone who says it is due to the painful attention the book pays to whale anatomy). That drama drives a story that could otherwise be quite dull. Had there been a weak character drive, the revenge plot seems strategic. Rather, having obsession personified by Richardson and logic and jealousy personified by Bledsoe creates an interesting dynamic.
I should watch all of my movies with Ben Mankiewicz (both literally and...spiritually?). There's so much awesome information about the casting of this movie. Richardson was portrayed by an aging Clark Gable. I've never been a fan or not a fan of Gable. He does fine in Gone with the Wind. I adore him in It Happened One Night. But he apparently was kind of a punk while filming this movie. The problem with that, besides the fact that we should always encourage consummate professionalism on set, is that Burt Lancaster was producing and starring in this movie too. Lancaster wanted to make an amazing film where he wasn't the first lead, but the supporting lead. He had to kowtow to this Hollywood legend who wanted to quit everyday at 5:00. I normally don't ascribe great performances to people who hate each other, but I genuinely got the vibe that they hated each other. Again, Mankiewicz planted this in my head, so I don't know how much I was influenced. But their performances are awesome. Clark Gable always played it cool in the other movies I've seen him in, so watching him play super intense was great. It's odd that he's the one who personifies obsession because Lancaster is the one who always seemed a second away from punching someone. But Lancaster is great. He has the great relationship with the rest of the crew, including a young Don Rickles. He's sympathetic, but also kind of a jerk. That's always an interesting character trait for the audience. He's in the right the entire time, but I still didn't want to see him succeed. It's probably because I'm a bad person.
The message of the story is odd. Richardson's obsession is clearly the tragic flaw of the film. SPOILERS: Yes, he falls victim to his tragic flaw. But what is odd that he gets what he wants. There's kind of a backseat message of obsession being the most valuable thing. I know that Ahab also gets to the whale, but there's something pathetic about the whole thing. When Bledsoe bends to Richardson's will, there's something weirdly inspiring about the whole thing. Shouldn't I be saying, "This isn't you?" I did care. Perhaps the fact that the movie is about WWII, I do get this weird patriotism that I wouldn't have gotten with the white whale. The narrative and conventions demands that the Americans defeat the Japanese. It wouldn't be until decades later where the concepts of war being tragic would show up in film as palpably as would be needed to show the Americans being fine with retreat. But that also screws up the theme just a bit. That's probably why Richardson had to die. Yeah, there's the idea that his life's purpose is now behind him and I suppose that is come-uppance for many of his obsessive shanannigans, but it doesn't seem like enough to make him out to look troubled. Rather, the movie has a "he was right" attitude. Bledsoe makes the change to take advantage of the situation after being called a coward, but I don't know if he has fundamentally changed his outlook on the entire concept of being a leader.
For an old timey war movie, this movie is pretty boss. I can't believe I got excited for a submarine movie, but it really does work. It has to be because of the great performances and drives of the lead characters and the way it was shot because you can color me impressed. If you are at all a war buff, please watch this movie. This is how classic war is done right.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.