Film & TV

Rewind, Review, and Re-Rate: ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’

A mesmerizing clash of wills during World War II
BY Ian Kane TIMEApril 25, 2022 PRINT

Approved | 1h 33min | Action, Drama, War | 1958

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Clark Gable (L) and Burt Lancaster star in “Run Silent, Run Deep.” (United Artists)

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.

In fact, a number of these submarine films depict the clash of wills between a sub’s commander and his second in command, the executive officer. If there’s one film that set the standard for this, it would have to be 1958’s World War II submarine film, “Run Silent, Run Deep.”

Great Stars in Great Roles

Here 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.

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Action on the high seas, in “Run Silent, Run Deep.” (United Artists)

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.

Richardson is assigned to desk duty, where he passes time with his friend Yeoman 1st Class Mueller (Jack Warden). One of their favorite distractions is to re-create the fateful sub-destroyer encounter over and over using models, except with Richardson’s crew winning each time. But the fantasy matchups only make the deflated commander want revenge and compel him to hatch a clever plan.

Dashed Hopes

A 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).

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Burt Lancaster as Lt. Jim Bledsoe (L) and Clark Gable as Cmdr. “Rich” Richardson in “Run Silent, Run Deep.” (United Artists)

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.

The Nerka, now with Richardson at its helm and Bledsoe as his new executive officer, casts off for a fresh patrol in Japanese waters. Their mission is to sink any convoy ships they find while staying relatively undetected. However, Richardson has his own plan afoot that may jeopardize not only his life but also the lives of his crew as well.

Nuanced Conflict

Although 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.

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Tensions rise between Clark Gable as Cmdr. “Rich” Richardson (L) and Burt Lancaster as Lt. Jim Bledsoe (R) in “Run Silent, Run Deep.” (United Artists)

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.

‘Run Silent, Run Deep’
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Jack Warden
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Release Date: March 27, 1958
Rated: 4 stars out of 5

Ian Kane
Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.
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