Run Silent Run Deep


Day five of my own little Robert Wise Film Festival

Run Silent Run Deep is a crackerjack sub picture that gets a lot of the specific details of life on a WWII U.S. fleet submarine right while the general events of the plot are pure Hollywood. The dialog and procedures aboard the submarine are spot on, thanks to generous cooperation from the U.S. Navy.


The story is, in its broad details, Moby Dick transferred to the Pacific theater of World War II. Commander “Rich” Richardson (Clark Gable) loses his submarine and crew in an area off Japan known as the Bungo Straits. Over the next year, the Navy loses three more subs in that same area, supposedly to the same Japanese destroyer, the Akakaze, known to the sub crews as “Bungo Pete.” Richardson spends that year on desk duty, dreaming up a radical new tactical approach to sinking the Akakaze. Finally a boat, the Nerka, comes in with her skipper wounded. Richardson campaigns the Navy brass to be given command and gets his wish.

The catch is that the Nerka‘s popular executive officer, Lt. Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) is expecting to take command. Richardson’s appointment does not sit well with Bledsoe or the crew.

The boat goes out on a war patrol to Area 7, which includes the Bungo Straits, although they have orders to avoid the Straits. Richardson confounds Bledsoe and the crew by passing up a chance to attack a Japanese sub. He doesn’t pass up a freighter and escorting destroyer, however. He sinks the freighter then turns and sinks the destroyer with a bow shot down the throat. When Richardson declines to attack another convoy in Area 7, Bledsoe figures out his game. The attack on the destroyer was a dry run for an attack on the Akakaze and Richardson means to disobey orders, proceed into the Bungo Straits and hunt “Bungo Pete.”

The highlight of this film is presence of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Gable and Lancaster, at very different points in their careers. This was one of Gable’s last movies while Lancaster was still very much a rising star after his starring turn in From Here To Eternity. These two larger-than-life figures square off in the tight confines of the submarine. Director Robert Wise makes excellent use of the cramped, claustrophobic interior of the sub to enhance the tension between the two stars.

A young Don Rickles appears in his first movie role and Jack Warden plays the crewman most loyal to Richardson. Also present is Nick Cravat as the boat’s cook. Cravat was Burt Lancaster’s partner in a circus act before Lancaster became a movie star.

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