Maritime Monday for October 21st, 2013: Movies About Submarines, Part 2

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October 20, 2013

Movies About Submarines Part 2

above: Atlantic Convoy (Columbia, 1942)

Released shortly after the similar Columbia wartime story Submarine Raider, Atlantic Convoy is set on the coast of Iceland. Civilian weatherman Carl Hansen (John Beal) is suspected of being a Nazi spy after an unexpected enemy attack on an Allied convoy. With the help of nurse Lida Adams (Virginia Field), Beal not only proves his innocence but also rounds up a gang of Fifth Columnists. (allmovie)

last week: Part One

Devil and the Deep (1932)

Devil and the Deep (Paramount, 1932)

Based on the novel Sirenes et Tritons by Maurice Larrouy + – A mentally unstable naval officer goes mad with jealousy when his wife’s recent lover shows up as a lieutenant on the submarine he commands. It is the smell of her cheap perfume that arouses the husband’s suspicions, and he plans to confront the lieutenant. The wife follows, knowing all-too-well well that in the throes of a jealous rage, her husband cannot control his behavior.

Laughton catches her, locks her in his cabin, then deftly steers the sub towards an oncoming freighter. Just before the ships collide, he forces the lieutenant to take the controls…  more

Charles Laughton and Cary Grant in Devil and the Deep

Cary Grant and Charles Laughton in Devil and the Deep

Destination Tokyo (Warner Brothers, 1943)

Destination Tokyo (Warner Brothers, 1943)

Destination Tokyo ranks as one of the most intelligent and objective of wartime thrillers. Cary Grant is a tower of strength as Captain Cassidy, skipper of American submarine USS Copperfin, bound for Tokyo harbor. Its mission: to allow a Navy meteorologist to survey Japanese weather conditions, in preparation for a major Allied assault, the Doolittle Raid.

Tony Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed and war was declared. Having been inspired by Grant’s role, he chose submarine duty and served aboard USS Proteus. The film also influenced Ronald Reagan (according to his autobiography) in his decision to accept the lead as a World War II-submarine captain in the 1957 movie Hellcats of the Navy. (wikipedia)

From the sub’s embarkation in San Francisco to its climactic retreat from Japan, there’s not a single solitary dull moment in this film. (allmovie)

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (Warner Brothers, 1961)

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (Warner Brothers, 1961)

The Fabulous World of Jules VerneThe Czechoslovakia-filmed Fabulous World of Jules Verne is based on the 1896 Verne novel Face the Flag. The film evokes the original illustrations for Verne’s works by combining live actors with various forms of animation.

rt: Hungarian language Poster

The film has long been appreciated for its unique visual style, which faithfully recreates that of the Victorian line engravings (by Édouard Riou, Léon Benett, and others) featured in the original editions of Verne’s novels. +

The story concerns the machinations of evil millionaire Artigas (Miloslav Holub), who plans to use a super-explosive device to conquer the world. Artigas operates from a pirate submarine, wherein he has imprisoned the explosive’s inventor, Professor Roche (Arnost Navratil). One of the ships destroyed by the pirate sub includes among its passengers the scientist’s daughter Jana (Jana Zatloukalova), who is rescued and spirited away to Artiga’s headquarters inside an enormous volcano… (more on allmovie)

The Flying Missile (Columbia, 1950) Italian language poster

The Flying Missile (Columbia, 1950) Italian language poster

Cold War era Columbia Pictures film starring Glenn Ford and Viveca Lindfors. Made with the cooperation of the US Navy, it is a fictionalised account of the, only just recently revealed story, of the US Navy’s first firing of submarine-based cruise missiles.

Decorated submarine commander Commander William Talbot’s (Glenn Ford) boat the USS Bluefin (actually the USS Cusk) is on manoeuvers with the goal of simulating the sinking of the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CV-41). On board the Midway are some politicians, along hoping to view the test firing of a guided missile from its flight deck. After the Bluefin attempts a simulated torpedo attack, is detected then “sunk” by a depth charge attack from a nearby destroyer, plans are made to put guided missiles on submarines.  Drama ensues. (wikipedia)

Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five (New Horizons) 1990

Based on the novel by Bart Davis, and set in the days preceding the United States 1989 invasion of Panama.

Panamanian rebels seize a Soviet submarine (the “Victor Three class submarine CCCP Kirov“) and threaten America with a nuclear attack on Houston, Texas. Only commanding officer Peter MacKenzie (Michael Moriarty) of the USS Aspen, a fictional Los Angelesclass submarine, can stop the villains.

Technical accuracy was not a priority; the submarine warfare tactics used are absurd and the military structure, uniforms, insignia, and jargon are entirely imaginary. The novel has no such technical flaws, and has been published in several languages, including Chinese and Japanese. (more on wikipedia)

Gray Lady Down (Universal, 1978)

Gray Lady Down (Universal, 1978)

Based on David Lavallee’s book Event 1000. An aging, respected commander Paul Blanchard, (Charlton Heston) on his final tour before promotion to squadron command. Surfaced just off the coast of Rhode Island, his boat, the USS Neptune, is struck by a freighter in heavy fog, and sinks to a depth of 1,450 feet, (442 meters) before coming to rest on a canyon ledge above an even deeper trench.

A US Navy rescue force, commanded by Captain Bennett (Stacy Keach), arrives on the scene, but a sub-sea landslide has rolled the Neptune to such an angle that is now inaccessible. A small but capable experimental submersible, the Snark, run by a nonconformist Navy misfit Captain Gates (David Carradine) is brought in to assist with the rescue.

Footage of the real-life submarine USS Trout (SS-566), filmed specifically for Gray Lady Down, depicts the fictional USS Neptune. Submarine special-effect footage and the large-scale model originally used to portray the fictional submarine USS Tigerfish in the 1968 movie Ice Station Zebra, is also recycled here. (wikipedia)

Gray Lady Down

Get your filthy paws off me, you goddamn dirty submariner!

Hell Below (MGM, 1933)

Hell Below (MGM, 1933)

With an all-star cast that includes Walter Huston, Robert Montgomery, Robert Young, and Madge Evans, this excellent WWI submarine drama is based on the 1931 novel by Commander Edward Ellsberg entitled Pigboats.

Walter Huston stars as a submarine commander whose lieutenant (Robert Montgomery) falls in love with Huston‘s daughter (Madge Evans). All cliches (including the intrusive comedy relief of Jimmy Durante) are forgiven and forgotten once the sub is launched on a dangerous mission in the Adriatic.

Commander Huston is forced to make several cold-blooded decisions to preserve the safety of his crew members. In one scene, seaman Sterling Holloway is trapped in a room full of poison gas. Huston orders the men not to rescue Holloway, lest they too be exposed to the deadly fumes.

As the men grimly try to go about their routine tasks, the dying Holloway presses his face against the glassed-in porthole and piteously begs for help! This brief moment in Hell Below sticks in the mind far longer than Robert Montgomery‘s own death scene, in which he redeems his reckless behavior during a crucial battle. (allmovie)

more on wikipedia

Hell and High Water (20th Century Fox, 1954)

Hell and High Water (20th Century Fox, 1954)

Hell and High Water brings an intriguing Cold War slant to a standard submarine melodrama. Richard Widmark plays a soldier-of-fortune sub commander who agrees to sell his services to noted atomic scientist Victor Francen and his assistant (and daughter) Bella Darvi.

Francen intends to prove that the Communists intend to launch a nuclear attack on Korea from an Arctic island, then blame the attack on the United States. Widmark frankly doesn’t give a fig about politics, but he is won over by the sincerity of Francen and his idealistic cohorts, and by the beauty of Ms. Darvi.

Before the Reds’ evil intentions can be thwarted, however, Widmark must face down a Communist Chinese submarine loaded with highly volatile atomic weaponry. The special effects are very impressive, especially for a mid-1950s 20th Century-Fox production. (allmovie)

Hell and High Water starring Richard Widmark

Hell and High Water starring Richard Widmark

Hellcats of the Navy (RKO, 1957) Italian language poster

Hellcats of the Navy (RKO, 1957) Italian language poster

Future first couple Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis made their only joint film appearance in this picture. Ronnie plays Casey Abbott, commander of a WW2 submarine, and Nancy portrays navy nurse Helen Blair, Abbott’s off-and-on girlfriend.

During a delicate mission in which his sub, the USS Starfish, is ordered to retrieve a revolutionary new Japanese mine, Abbott is forced to leave frogman Wes Barton (Harry Lauter) behind so that he might save the rest of his crew. Abbott’s second-in-command Don Landon, (Eduard Franz) is convinced that Abbott’s sacrifice of Barton was because the dead man had been pursuing Helen.

The rest of the film is spent proving Abbott right and Barton wrong. Based on the non-fiction book Hellcats of the Sea by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood. (allmovie)

Hellcats of the Navy - Lobby Card Set of 8

Hellcats of the Navy – Lobby Card Set of 8

The United States Navy provided extensive cooperation by allowing portions of the film to be shot at the Naval Base San Diego and aboard an actual submarine, and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz endorsed the production on-screen at the start of the movie.

Reagan noted in his autobiography that he was disappointed in the film overall, having expected a result more like Destination Tokyo, a major Warner Bros. film of the  previous decade. (wikipedia)

Confederate Submarine HL Hunley (1863-1864)

 Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864)
profile and plan drawings on Naval Historical Center

Mort Künstler's The Final Mission, showing the CSS Hunley about to depart to attack the USS Housatonic

Mort Künstler’s “The Final Mission”, showing the CSS Hunley
about to depart to attack the USS Housatonic

1999 television movie starring Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland that tells the incredible true story of the crew of the manually propelled submarine CSS Hunley during the siege of Charleston of 1864. It is a story of heroism in the face of adversity, the Hunley being the first submersible to sink an enemy boat in time of war.

IHunley movie postert also relates the human side of the story relating the uncommon and extraordinary temperament of the 9 men who led the Hunley into history and died valiantly accomplishing this feat. (imdb)

The CSS Hunley was a bare tube lit by candlelight without a wink of electronic equipment on board. Its surfaces were tinged with rust from the two times it had already been sunk with all hands lost. Both times the Hunley was raised to the surface and refurbished for service. (

On February 17, 1864, the CSS HL Hunley sails out and attacks the USS Housatonic. A torpedo is rammed into the side of the ship, it blows up and the Housatonic is the first ship ever sunk by a sub.

A bullet fired from the ship breaks a window in the conning tower and wounds captain George E. Dixon. The explosion opens the seams on the Hunley and it starts to take on water. Unable to release ballast or pump the ship, it settles to the bottom. As agreed, the crew opens the valves and the ship floods, killing all aboard. (wikipedia)

Confederate submarine HL Hunley

Confederate submarine HL Hunley sits in a tank
at a conservation lab in North Charleston, South Carolina
from Have scientists finally solved the mystery
of Civil War submarine…? on

The Hunt for Red October (Paramount, 1990)

The Hunt for Red October (Paramount, 1990)

Based on Tom Clancy‘s novel of the same name.

Producer Mace Neufeld approached the U.S. Navy for approval and several admirals reasoned that the film could do for submariners what Top Gun did for the Navy’s jet fighter pilots. The Navy gave the filmmakers access to submarines, allowing them to photograph unclassified sections of USS Chicago and USS Portsmouth to use in set and prop design. They also lent the film crew the the Enterprise, two frigates (Wadsworth and Reuben James), helicopters, and a dry-dock crew.


Fred Thompson as Commander of the Enterprise Carrier Battle Group

Submariners from San Diego were cast as extras because it was easier to hire them than training actors to move and behave convincingly within the confines of the set. The crew of USS Houston (which portrayed Dallas in most scenes) called their month-long filming schedule the “Hunt for Red Ops.” Between rehearsal and actual takes, the boat made over 40 emergency surfacing “blows.

Two 50-foot square platforms housing mock-ups of Red October and Dallas were built, standing on hydraulic gimbals that simulated the sub’s movements. Sean Connery recalled, “It was very claustrophobic. There were 62 people in a very confined space, 45 feet above the stage floor. It got very hot on the sets, and I’m also prone to sea sickness. The set would tilt to 45 degrees. Very disturbing.

James Earl Jones was never here

and James Earl Jones was never here…

The Hunt for Red October opened in 1,225 theaters on 2 March 1990, grossing $17 million on its opening weekend, more than half its production budget. It went on to gross a worldwide total of $200 million, and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.  (wikipedia)

Ice Station Zebra (MGM, 1969)

Ice Station Zebra (MGM, 1969)

Cold-war era suspense and espionage film loosely based upon Alistair MacLean‘s 1963 novel of the same name. Both have parallels to real-life events that took place in 1959, concerning a missing experimental Corona satellite capsule (Discoverer II) that inadvertently landed near Spitsbergen, situated in the Arctic Ocean, on April 13th. It was believed to have been recovered by Soviet agents.

In the novel, there is no Russian submarine, no Russians on the ice, and no confrontation of any kind on the ice with the Russians. The attempted sinking of the US submarine is almost certainly based on the loss of the Royal Navy submarine HMS Thetis in Liverpool Bay in 1939.

As in the film the drip cock was blocked on the newly-built Thetis (by dockyard-applied fresh paint) which led to the rear cap being opened while the bow cap was already open to the ocean. Water entered at the rate of one ton per second and the Thetis sank with the loss of 98 lives. In the movie the drip cock has been blocked with epoxy adhesive. (wikipedia)

Ice Station Zebra

Ice Station Zebra lobby cards

A top-secret Soviet spy satellite — using stolen Western technology — malfunctions and goes into a descent that lands it near an isolated British Arctic research encampment called Ice Station Zebra, which falls silent shortly after sending out a distress signal.

Atomic submarine Tigerfish, commanded by Cmdr. James Ferraday (Rock Hudson), is dispatched with orders to get to Ice Station Zebra carrying three passengers; a Englishman going by the name of David Jones (Patrick McGoohan), a Soviet turncoat named Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), and an American Marine officer, Captain Anders (Jim Brown), who is supposed to command the Marine unit assigned to the mission.

Ferraday has his hands full trying to get these men to the polar ice — 600 miles of dangerous travel — in just two days. When an attempt to break through the ice — coupled with some timely sabotage — kills one man and nearly destroys the boat, the men surrounding these contending parties start to understand just how high the stakes are for everyone.

The Soviets want what was aboard that satellite as much as the West does; indeed, both sides are frantic to get it, and, just as much, to keep the other side from getting it — and they’re prepared to take it by force. (allmovie)

Ice Station Zebra

The nuclear-powered Tigerfish (SSN-509) was portrayed in the movie by the diesel-electric Guppy IIA submarine USS Ronquil (SS-396) when seen on the surface. The underwater scenes used a model of a Skate class nuclear submarine.

The name Zebra comes from the representation of the letter Z in the Joint Army/Navy phonetic alphabet. In the modern NATO phonetic alphabet later adopted by aviation and navigation, Zulu is used instead of Zebra. In actuality, there was an Ice Station Alpha (phonetic for the letter “A”) located on Ice Island T-3 in the Arctic, visited by the USS Skate on 14 August 1958, as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY).

Ice Station Zebra was released on October 23, 1968. The film became a major hit and gave a much-needed rise to Rock Hudson’s by then flaccid career. (wikipedia)

The Invaders (Columbia, 1941)

The Invaders (Columbia, 1941)

aka 49th Parallel – German U-boat (U-37) terrorizes Allied shipping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Attempting to evade Canadian Military Forces, they high-tail it up to Hudson Bay. The U-boat’s fanatical Nazi captain sends some members of his crew ashore to look for food and other supplies at a Hudson Bay Company outpost.

As soon as the landing party (lead by Lieutenant Hirth) reaches the shore, the U-boat is spotted and sunk by the Canadians. The group of Nazi naval officers and crewmen are now stranded on Canadian soil. The Nazi Lieutenant plans his crews’ return to the Fatherland by going overland; seeking refuge in the neutral United States without being captured. (imdb)

apolitical Quebeckian trapper Laurence Olivier in The Invaders

 Laurence Olivier in The Invaders

The Nazis try to stir up sympathy amongst the Canadians, beginning with apolitical Quebeckian trapper Laurence Olivier. Failing to convert Olivier–even by force–the Germans move on to a Hutterite farming community, where again they are unsuccessful in winning adherents (though, one German seaman defects to the other side).

They then cross the path of professorial author Leslie Howard, who is living amongst the Indians to soak up “local color”. Even Howard proves too formidable for the Nazis, and by film’s end the surviving invaders are hiding out in a train, where they are discovered and captured by AWOL Canadian soldier Raymond Massey. (allmovie)

K-19 The Widowmaker (Paramount, 2002)

K-19 The Widowmaker (Paramount, 2002)

Tells the story of the first of many disasters that befell the Soviet submarine of the same name.

Harrison Ford stars as a Russian naval officer who has, at the height of the Cold War in 1961, been given command of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine, K-19. The vessel’s previous commander, played by Liam Neeson, has been demoted to executive officer because of his outspoken assertions that the flagship is not yet ready for deployment.

Political pressure forces Vostrikov to sail his crew into the North Atlantic for a missile fire test, intending it to serve as a warning to the U.S. that its enemy is now its technological equal. The test is a success, but a disastrous leak in the K-19’s reactor cooling system soon threatens to ignite the sub’s nuclear payload. An event which would certainly be mistaken for an opening salvo, sparking World War III. (allmovie)


demoted skipper Liam Neeson gives new captain Harrison Ford the low down

The Hotel-classsubmarine K-19 was portrayed in the film by the (Juliett-class) K-77, which was significantly modified for the role. Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine Ojibwa portrayed the Soviet Whiskey-class submarine S-270. and HMCS Terra Nova portrayed the USS Decatur.

The Widowmaker” nickname was used only in the movie. In real life, the submarine had no nickname until after the nuclear accident on 5 July 1961, when she got her actual nickname “Hiroshima“.

When the film was premiered in Russia in October 2002, 52 veterans of the K-19 incident accepted flights to the Saint Petersburg premiere. Despite what they saw as technical as well as historical compromises, they praised the film and in particular the performance of Harrison Ford.  (wikipedia)

Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard: Hot or Not

In 2002, after the film wrapped up, the submarine was purchased by the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, towed to Collier Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island, and opened to the public in August. When the Foundation took possession of the submarine it was thought to be K-81. After spending months refurbishing the interior, which included removing several bulkheads, moving large pieces of equipment and going deep into the bilges, maintenance documents were found that provided incontrovertible proof that the submarine was indeed the K-77, and not the K-81 as previously thought.

1968 Juliett class 484 diesel sub used in the filmrt: 1968 Juliett class 484 diesel sub used in the film

The submarine sank on April 18, 2007 after a storm. Recovery efforts by U.S. Navy and Army divers began in June 2008 as part of a project to train military divers.

On June 2, 2008, divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two in Norfolk, Virginia arrived and began preparations to raise the submarine. On July 25, 2008, she was brought to the surface; badly deteriorated.

On August 11, 2009, the sub was towed to a nearby facility so that it could be scrapped. (wikipedia)

photos of the submarine before and after the sinking

Gallery: K-19: The Widowmaker on sky-movies (15 photos)

National Geographic (an investing partner) site about the film

To be continued…

see you next week

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