Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sub Mission: A tribute to submarine movies

Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo. If there isn't a scene like this in every sub movie, there should be.

I love a good submarine movie. There's something about the genre. You can say what you want about the Freudian symbolism of the craft, but I wonder if it's a coincidence that they all have at least one scene where the men start stripping off their wet shirts to deal with the heat and oppressive atmosphere. It's always Tennessee Williams hot on board a submarine, in more ways than one.

Das Boot goes for gritty (and sweaty) realism.

Probably the best sub movie of all time is Das Boot. It's also the longest. I've heard rumors of five hour cuts of this film. That's a lot of submarine. Even I might tire of a submerged tin can full of pent up testoreone and men in wet shirts. Nah. Who am I kidding? If one of my loyal readers sent me the five hour Das Boot, I'd watch it. This is a hint, people, by the way.

I dug up the trailer for Crimson Tide (1995) on Youtube. Watch for a pre-Sopranos James Gandolphini saying "Dive, Dive" and sweating a lot. Notice how everyone is sweating a lot in the clip. And in the scenes where they aren't sweating it's raining really hard, just to up the wateriness quotient of the movie, I guess.

Gable: They carried the whole "wet look" a bit too far.

One of the dramatic devices of Crimson tide, the clash between an old captain and a younger officer, is a recurring theme in the genre. From Charles Laughton and Gary Cooper in Devil in the Deep (1932) to Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in K-19, the Widowmaker (2002), you pretty much now that two things are going to happen. The young guy is gonna get wet and then he's gonna yell at the older guy. In Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), it's the old guy, Clark Gable who gets wet.

After the yelling and the second guessing, there will be certainly be a contrastingly quiet scene where almost we hear is that "Boop....booop" noise that you always hear in the background in a sub movie. That's usually the cue to start the tech talk. "Crush depth," "fire torpedos," "up, persicope" and the like. I love all the tech talk in a sub movie. It reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, which is really every kind of navy battle movie set in space. You definitely have the submarine thing, because they put their nukes in tubes and fire them like torpedos. Every time Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) starts barking out navigational coordinates, you can tell that President Roslin (Mary McDonnel) just wants to jump his bones. Submarine movies have long extended sequences where people talk in this kind of gibberish and yet it's always tense and dramatic.

Gregory Peck and his periscope in On the Beach.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, I wouldn't be surprised if the creators of that series had seen On The Beach with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck. They are both about people coping with the end of the world. How do survivors move on with their lives and what problems do they have hooking up with other survivors. Turns out they have a lot of issues. Gregory Peck plays a submarine commander whose surely lost his family in the war that's destroyed all of the the Northern Hemisphere, but he continues to act as if they are o.k., buying them gifts, writing letters home. Yet he's trying to come to terms with his relationship with Ava Gardner, which is like mental adultery to him. It's a very fine drama that has amazing work from Gardiner, Peck, pre-Pyscho Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire among others. That's why I resisted the temptation to title this whole piece "Das Booty Call: Gregory Peck in On the Beach." That would be too flippant even for me.

I wasn't expecting On the Beach (1959) to be a sub movie, since it's about nuclear war. The opening scene has Gregory Peck bending over a periscope. I had to stop the movie and replay it and say aloud, "You had me at 'up periscope' On the Beach."


kda0121 said...

Submarine movies are great. You can always expect your fair quota of "Up Periscope", "Dive! Dive!", "Fire One!" and "Rig for depth charges!"

In every sub movie there's almost always a tin can chasing the sub scene, with those wonderful miniature shots of depth charges exploding next to the sub. (Cut to interior of sub - the sailors are thrown from one side of the boat to the other, a pipe bursts, lights go out, sailors turn a valve off to stop the leak. Ninety percent of submarine movies are total cliche, but I love them and get sucked in every time. Even though Das Boot is probably the "best" submarine movie ever, my favorite is still Destination Tokyo. With that big name cast and the great Warner Brothers stock company to support, it's hard to miss. Plus, there is something about the wartime propaganda movies that I really love.

I'm a sucker for POW movies too. I hope you do an article on those someday.

AbbyNormal said...

Yum-o on the pictures!!! I agree, I am not a fan of war films, but a good submarine film seems different from the war genre. I always love them and I am not sure why. Sadly, I have never seen Das Boot so I must check that submarine goodness out.

Anonymous said...

Hi, love the post. I'm a big fan of submarine films, Das Boot being my favourite of all time with K-19: The Widowmaker running a close second. Though Harrison Ford was class in it.

COZY ZEOLD said...

What about these movies? The Hunt for Red October , Phantom (2013),Black Sea & U 571 . I love sub movies.Sean Connery Ed Harris& David Duchovny Matthew McConaughey Jude Law . All magnificent artists playing amazing roles