I saw something rather unique the other day when I was watching one of those World War II propaganda films wrapped around a romance drama a love triangle that involved Tyrone Power Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews; the movie (Crash Dive (1943)) featured a human periscope! Late in the story the captain of an American submarine (played by Andrews) on a sabotage mission finds that his boat’s eyes – the periscope – has been blown off by some German artillery. Of course he does what comes naturally: he becomes the periscope himself. After strapping himself to the conning tower he radios instructions to his crew to submerge the sub to twenty foot depth and then (his head above water) directs them how to blow up the enemy and the harbor’s sub netting to allow them to escape. Though I’ve seen a lot of submarine dramas this was the first I’d ever seen to incorporate such a stunt (and the film won the Oscar for Special Effects that year).
Some other notable submarine movies are:
20000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) – this terrific telling of the frequently produced Jules Verne story also won Special Effects gold and the Color Art Direction-Set Decoration statuette as well. This live action Disney feature also earned Academy Award winning editor Elmo Williams his last Oscar nomination. James Mason plays Captain Nemo who’s given up on the surface world so he aims to destroy any warships he encounters with his powerful ahead of its time monster of a submarine he’s dubbed the Nautilus. All this is discovered during an expedition led by a professor (Paul Lukas) his assistant (Peter Lorre) and a whaler (Kirk Douglas) who must later battle a giant sea squid.
Das Boot (1981) – perhaps no film gives one a better feel for the dirty sweaty and perilous conditions faced by a wartime submarine crew than this German made one from screenwriter-director Wolfgang Petersen. It received six Oscar nominations (including two for Petersen). The titled U-boat is under attack from British destroyers that protect the shipping lanes from the English Channel through the Mediterranean Sea in early World War II.
Destination Tokyo (1943) – also set during early WW II but from an American perspective this first film directed by screenwriter Delmer Daves details the story behind a submarine crew that was charged with infiltrating Tokyo Bay shortly after Pearl Harbor in order to provide reconnaissance information to James Doolittle’s bombing raid in April 1942. Ironically Britisher Cary Grant played the sub’s captain; additionally John Garfield plays a gunner Alan Hale is a cook Dane Clark plays a crewman with an ax to grind Robert Hutton and John Forsythe (making their screen debuts) are other crewmen and John Ridgely plays a Naval intelligence officer with knowledge about Japan. Steve Fisher’s Original Story earned an Oscar nomination.
The Enemy Below (1957) – several aspects of this drama make it uncommon among the other dramas listed here: it was one of only a few films produced and directed by hoofer come film-noir actor Dick Powell it gives the surface destroyer’s perspective versus just the sub crew’s view and it steals what had been a fairly unique scene from an earlier WW II propaganda film about the merchant marines (Action in the North Atlantic (1943)) in which the destroyer’s captain (Robert Mitchum in this case) orders his men to build fires on his ship’s decks to fool the u-boat’s captain (Curt Jurgens) to surface; the destroyer then rams the sub broadside sinking it. This film also won the Special Effects Academy Award for all its depth charge explosions.
The Hunt for Red October (1990) – Tom Clancy’s thrilling (first?) novel made a pretty good addition to the submarine war movie genre and yet its setting was present day (Cold vs. World War) at the time. Naturally it won the Special Effects Oscar and was nominated in the other categories in which such films have been regularly recognized: Editing and Sound.
Operation Petticoat (1959) – the fact that this one’s a comedy from director Blake Edwards makes this WW II-based Cary Grant feature an unusual entry on the list. Grant is again the captain with an enterprising first mate played by Tony Curtis; he and his crew must transport Dina Merrill and her equally lovely nurses in the tight confines of their “pink” submarine to safety. The story (and screenplay written directly for the screen) was Oscar nominated and the cast included future television stars Dick Sargent Gavin MacLeod Marion Ross and Arthur O’Connell.
Run Silent Run Deep (1958) – Robert Wise directed the conflicts between two “heavyweight” actors of the screen Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster in this WW II drama of an American sub captain (Gable) obsessed with sinking the specific Japanese destroyer that had sunk another of his ship’s earlier. Lancaster plays a Lieutenant who’s passed over for promotion to captain in order that Gable’s character might enact his revenge. The two spend a considerable amount of time engaging each other in lieu of the enemy.
Torpedo Run (1958) – by the time this Glenn Ford-Ernest Borgnine WW II drama was released (six months after Run Silent Run Deep (1958)) virtually all of its storyline had become cliche. Much like Gable’s character Ford plays a tortured sub captain determined to sink a specific Japanese aircraft carrier (dubbed “flat top” just like the actor’s preferred hair style); Borgnine plays the Lieutenant who covers for his commander that passes up other targets in pursuit of this “holy grail”. The film features Academy Award nominated Special Effects.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) – like the first one listed this is another non-war movie which features an advanced (unrealistically huge nuclear powered) submarine designed and built by someone (Walter Pidgeon in this one) who’s trying to escape the surface world. But this Irwin Allen sci-fi adventure is high camp and sub-par as a drama; the story is a hoot and the special effects were too poor to earn any attention from Academy voters. Appearing again is Peter Lorre as well as several other recognizable (and obviously payday motivated) actors.
© 2007 Turner Classic Movies – this article originally appeared on TCM’s official blog