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September 24, 2014

Run Silent, Run Deep

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Robert Wise - 1958
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Even though Burt Lancaster had established himself as both producer and star at United Artists, one of his savvier moves was to pair himself with actors who had greater box office clout. The first time out was with Gary Cooper and Vera Cruz, a film that has gained critical appreciation for having inspired some of the first Italian westerns almost a decade later. The teaming with Clark Cable is a bit more low key. Produced a year after Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster needed to make a film that had guaranteed commercial viability to counter the financial loss from the previous production. Made at a time when films about World War II were a viable genre, Run Silent, Run Deep is well-made, but hardly unconventional. As part of Robert Wise's filmography, it's an assignment, with the more personal I Want to Live! and Odds Against Tomorrow to follow.

What Wise brings is a visual discipline so that the viewer will think the film was actually shot on board a submarine, rather than a soundstage. While not the definitive submarine movie (that would be Das Boot), Wise limits the camera movement, can composes the shots to emphasis the limited space and the forced physical closeness imposed on the sailors. Most of the film takes place inside the submarine.

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Gable is a captain forced to a desk job when his previous ship has been sunk by the Japanese. He is given the opportunity to take over command of a submarine, a position Lancaster has assumed would be his. Grudgingly continuing his role as executive officer to a new captain, Lancaster and the crew sail to the area where Gable's ship was sunk. Gable is hoping to get revenge against the ship that sunk him. It shouldn't surprise anyone that following a period of tension between Lancaster and Gable, or between crew members, that the Japanese ship is found and sunk.

The Japanese are generic here. There's a distance from the jingoism that might have been found in films made during the war. Office Brad Dexter does cast aspersions towards Jack Warden's sailor with the Germanic last name of Mueller. The film is more interested in the ideas of duty and protocol, done with impersonal professionalism. In an early part of the film, Gable forces the crew to repeat a drill where the submarine has to dive and be battle ready simultaneously in about thirty seconds. While the goal of the drill may well be for Gable's personal vendetta, there is also the sense that even without Gable, the crew would benefit from this kind of preparation.

The Blu-ray is basic, with just a trailer for extras. But the black and white cinematography by Russell Harlan looks beautiful here, with the occasional tilted angle and use of shadows that recall Wise's roots in horror and film noir. While he has written about his debut screen experience with Run Silent, Run Deep in his book, A Memoir, I don't think I would alone in wishing for a commentary track by Don Rickles.

Posted by peter at September 24, 2014 07:05 AM