Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Submarine Command (1951)

One of my favorite subjects! Submarines! Alas, this movie's script is at its sharpest when the characters are ashore and there isn't a submarine in sight. The first twenty minutes were my favorite, when we're actually at sea, at the end of WWII, doing what subs do best: sneaking up and sinking the enemy, rescuing downed pilots. I really do love the opening of this movie.

Then... it derails a bit because the war ends, and the sub goes home. But at the same time, the strongest and best written parts of this movie happen in the middle, in the scenes between Nancy Olson's Carol and William Holden's Ken White, who marry shortly after the war. Their relationship is very well done, and the two actors really bring it to life. Nancy Olson gets my favorite line of the whole movie, when a cranky, irritated Holden storms out of his own party, and she says to the other guests, "Excuse me, I have to kill a husband, I'll be right back." I love their interactions in this movie. Nicely handled, and their conversations have a realistic feel.

The driving force of the film, however, comes from the beginning where Holden dives the sub with the captain and another man still on deck. I love this, and I don't mind at all that Holden's character is eaten up by guilt for most of the movie. Who wouldn't be, even if you know you did what you had to? What I mind is the fact that the film cheats the moral dilemma by showing the audience that the captain was killed before the sub dived, and by having one of the more experienced men on in the crew (William Bendix) take exception to the fact that Holden's action saved the rest of the men on the sub, particularly with a Japanese destroyer bearing down on them dropping depth charges. Excuse me? I don't buy Bendix's CPO character's reaction for a second. A younger crewman, inexperienced and idealistic, absolutely! But not Bendix. He's been around, he knows how the deal works. Bendix then carries a grudge the rest of the film, and the ridiculousness of it is compounded by how easily he forgives Holden at the end, for a completely unrelated set of events. I never did figure how the latter event would forgive the former in anyone's mind except in the realm of Hollywood. Too bad, because that initial moral dilemma is so delicious and could have been better served half a dozen ways.

The ending action... well, it reminded me a bit of Crash Dive, which had more than its share of problems too. (And would someone explain how Mr. Rescued Flyboy ends up as the one playing commando? I know it's just to keep our cast of characters together, but really.) I've never been fond of the whole submarine-as-glorified-taxi routine as a major plot of a submarine movie because it takes us off the sub to follow the people on shore. The only time it really works is in a movie like The Frogmen, where the movie isn't about the sub or its crew. Also, what the heck??? Since when do WWII subs have to fully surface to get off a radio message? You just raise the antenna which is attached to one of the periscopes. I swear, submarine movies provoke the most talking to the screen out of me when I watch them and they do dumb things.

Now, all that aside, I still enjoyed the movie. I mean, come on, my favorite actor captaining a submarine, some lovely real submarine footage... that's enough to keep me hooked and watching and drooling and wanting more. I've given up expecting much from most submarine movies anyway. I just need to remember to ignore the plot and the technical errors and enjoy the actors and the sub, both of which I love.


  1. They STOLE that from Operation Pacific!!! The whole diving-while-someone's-still-up-top thing. Hmph.

  2. LOL! Alas, they BOTH "stole" it from books written before either movie came out (both in 1951, isn't that interesting!). It's a well-exploited theme with submarine stories.