Approved | 1h 33min | Action, Drama, War | 1958
Plenty of submarine movies involve the men onboard coming into conflict with one another. When you put a large crew into a cramped, congested space and away from home for months on end, there are bound to be squabbles and flare-ups. It’s one of the reasons I joined the Army instead of the Navy: I had mild claustrophobia and didn’t want to take a chance of being assigned to a sub.
Great Stars in Great RolesHere you have ubertalented actors Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster starring as the commander and executive officer respectively, so we’re in for a monumental clash of wills.
The film opens with Commander “Rich” Richardson (Gable) patrolling the dangerous Bungo Straits just off the coast of Japan in 1942. He and his submarine crew are targeting a Japanese cargo convoy and lining up their sights for a torpedo run. Soon, a notorious destroyer, called the Akikaze, which is escorting the convoy, detects the sub and quickly manages to sink it. Richardson and a handful of his men are lucky to escape a watery death and make it out of the sinking sub to the surface.
Dashed HopesA little later, a submarine known as the USS Nerka is returning to port from active sea patrol. On board is Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe (Lancaster), who has bonded with the sub’s raucous crew, including Ensign Gerald Cartwright (Brad Dexter), Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby (Don Rickles), and Russo (Nick Cravat).
The crew is prematurely celebrating the promotion of Bledsoe to commander of the Nerka since he’s performed so diligently as an executive officer. However, Bledsoe soon discovers that the Nerka’s reins have been passed over his head to none other than Richardson, who was successful in pulling a few strings with the Navy higher-ups.
Furious, Bledsoe pays Richardson a visit at his home and requests that he be released from duty so that he can be assigned somewhere else. Richardson stubbornly refuses.
Nuanced ConflictAlthough this is a classic “clash of wills” type of picture, some of its elements elevate it above similar World War II fare. One of these is that the film’s writing is first-rate: The dialogue between the various crew members on board the cramped submarine never feels stilted or phony. There are also some fascinating power dynamics at play as we learn about the motivations behind the main characters.
The plot (and Richardson’s scheme) also unfolds in gradients, as the rest of the crew begin to catch on, not only to the great peril they will face but also to the power struggle between Richardson and Bledsoe. Bledsoe resents the Navy brass, who passed him over for command, and Richardson, whom he feels stole his rightful position through political wrangling.
“Run Silent, Run Deep” is a taut war drama that features two Hollywood megastars in Gable and Lancaster, arguably at the height of their powers. It showcases how incredibly talented they were when given such a deftly written script, trimmed of any excess fat and bereft of pomp.