Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

Directed by Robert Wise

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Burt Lancaster is the symbol of virtue, it seems, in just about all of his most iconic roles.  Maybe he’s not so much so in films like The Sweet Smell of Success and others I can’t think of right now, but when I picture Lancaster I picture Gunfight at the O.K. CorralThe Train and his stoic performances in Seven Days in May and The Birdman of Alcatraz.

These characters are driven by a carefully assembled moral code, whether one given to them or one born from within.  With a certain faith in that code the Lancaster character is seemingly free from worry or, depending on how you look at it, deeply burdened with concern.  Either way they have some understanding about the world that doesn’t make them actively fight as much as try to subvert or maintain it from within.  They know how things are, and they have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done about it.

In Run Silent, Run Deep Lancaster plays Lieutenant Bledsoe, a captain of a World War II submarine who quickly learns that he has been demoted and instructed to serve Commander Richardson (Clark Gable).  Bledsoe is disgusted by the decision, though when the crew prepares to put up a fight, Bledsoe orders them to stand down.  Richardson is their commander, and though his tactics bring everyone only apprehension, it is their duty to follow his orders, no matter where that may lead.

Richardson is a mysterious figure to many, but thanks to a brief prologue we understand that he is driven by something much more personal than Bledsoe, revenge.  In that way he is like the Bill Murray character in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

As Richardson’s commands frustrate and confound the battle-eager crew, they turn to Bledsoe to take over.  Until that point Richardson had remained cagey with his decisions, at times passing by Japanese destroyers undetected rather than engaging them and then dragging the crew into a so called graveyard in which the U.S. has already lost four submarines.

After an attack that leaves three of the crew dead and Richardson concussed, Bledsoe will at last take command.  He orders the ship to return home, which still bothers some of the crew who remark that never have they returned home with so many missiles still aboard.

When they intercept a radio message that suggests the Japanese believe their ship to have been sunk, they decide to use this to their advantage and take down their ultimate target, a large Japanese destroyer called the Akikaze.  They sink the ship, but when they deduce someone is still after them they realize there is a Japanese sub on their tail.

This leads to an entertaining little cat and mouse game between the two boats until Bledsoe and his crew, with some much-needed help from Richardson (using this as a chance to redeem himself).  In the end Richardson, almost inexplicably, dies from the head wound he had suffered earlier.  It’s one of those classic Hollywood scenes where the hero is dying but musters up just enough strength to make sure their mission is complete, then dies in grand fashion.

There is nothing all that spectacular about Run Silent, Run Deep.  It’s just Burt Lancaster doing his thing and cute little miniatures created for the underwater scenes.  In these shots you can see the edges of the tank in which they recorded the boats and torpedoes, and yeah, it’s all just kind of adorable.

Up Next: Atlantic City (1980), Spirited Away (2001), Punishment Park (1971)

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