Run Silent Run Deep, Robert Wise (1958)

Ah, the Bungo Straits. One of the great sub movies, fuelled by one of the great sub movie themes: conflict between the captain and the XO. Also, dare one say, this is one of the most literary of the sub movies. Before the credits even begin, sub captain Clark Gable is humiliated by being sunk by a Japanese destroyer. He is rescued and returns to Pearl Harbor, but is given a desk job upon his return. He spends his days obsessing about how he might have thwarted the Japanese destroyer that thwarted him. When Burt Lancaster, XO, brings his sub in from patrol, he expects to be made captain. But Gable has badgered the higher-ups into giving him the sub himself. Sound familiar? Same deal with Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford in K19. And here too, Gable drives the crew hard, putting them through drills they can’t see the significance of but which will become crucial soon. The movie is literary insofar as it is really about the anxiety of influence. Lancaster begins by hating Gable, his father figure. But when Gable becomes incapacitated and Lancaster takes over the boat, he winds up – in a remarkable sequence that must have confused thousands of moviegoers if they stopped to think about it for even an instant – exactly reproducing Gable’s strategy in every detail. It’s totally amazing – the dialogue is exactly the same, the shots are exactly the same, and Lancaster winds up sinking the destroyer that sank his “father” by using the techniques the hated “father” taught him to use. Extremely Freudian. I consider this perhaps the most perfect submarine movie ever, because it evokes claustrophobia not only in its cinematography, but in the logic of its plot. Gable has to go back to the Bungo Straits to get the Jap destroyer that sank his first boat, Lancaster has to resist the usurpation of his command, but then Lancaster also has to use Gable’s strategy when the time comes. Everything in the movie seems to proceed on the principles of predestination and fate, a sense that there is only one option. And of course on a submarine, options are few – one cannot choose, for example, to go for a walk.

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