Friday, June 16, 2017

Grandpa's Favorite Movies About Submarines (Post in Progress)

Here's a list of some submarine movies my grandfather really liked when he was alive, and a few more that he unfortunately didn't live to see but would have enjoyed if he had.

(These are not in any particular order)

1. Operation Petticoat (1959)

Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) is in charge of the submarine "Sea Tiger," which was badly damaged at a Philippine shipyard by a Japanese air raid. Seeking to make sail before an oncoming invasion, Sherman enlists the help of newly transferred Lieutenant Nick Holden (Tony Curtis) to use his talents as a con artist to procure the needed supplies. Once they're underway, Sherman evacuates a group of beautiful nurses, along with some island natives, a few children and a goat and some chickens, but can't find anyone who will take them off his hands. The sub barely functions on the surface, much less submerged, and its tendency to backfire loudly and emit clouds of black smoke is a running gag throughout the film. The Naval yard is out of grey paint, and so the crew has to mix red primer and white primer to coat their submarine, which results in an amusing shade of pink. 

One of my favorite scenes is very early on in the film, when the boat is being strafed by a Japanese Zero fighter. The men see the plane diving towards the sub, and they all hit the deck as the plane blows up just about everything on the deck.  One man gets up and his shirt is covered in red. "Oh no I knew it I'm dead!!" he wails...until he looks down, sniffs his shirt and licks it and says with a laugh, "...Cranberries..."  This kind of absurd thing really happens during a war....

This movie is even more hilarious than it sounds, and if you can find a good copy of it, it's worth a viewing. (I think it can be rented on Youtube) Check it out!

2. The Incredible Mister Limpet (1964)

The premise of this fun, lovable cartoon/live action film sounds like a Disney movie. Don Knotts plays a young, dorky guy who loves his aquarium and dreams of being a fish, because he thinks a fish's life is so simple and easy ("Oh, how I wish, I wish, I wish I were a fish...because fishes have a better life than people") ...much to the chagrin of his wife, who thinks (perhaps correctly) that he loves the fish tank more than her.  He keeps daydreaming about being a fish, until one day he falls overboard from a slippery pier and, suddenly and inexplicably, he becomes one.  He's a blue Limpet fish (still wearing his dorky thick-rimmed glasses) and he has to quickly get used to his new body and his strange new aquatic environment.  He rescues a very pretty young fish by accident, who he calls "Ladyfish" (voiced by Carole Cook) and they stumble into an awkward relationship while he struggles to explain to her that he's already married, to a human lady. Of course being a fish, she doesn't understand at all.  Meanwhile on dry land, his Navy sailor friend is convinced he has drowned, and starts to put the moves on his heartbroken wife.

Soon "Mister Limpet" wanders into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where the German and American fleets are at war. He accidentally discovers that when he "sneezes" (apparently fish have allergies too), he makes a very loud noise that travels for miles underwater, and not only does it scare away bigger fish, but it confuses the sonar and torpedo homing of the German U-boats. He uses this as his secret weapon against the Germans, and finds a way to talk to the American boats by speaking into their hydrophones.  Thus, he becomes a "war hero" by successfully confusing the Germans, revealing their location to the Americans and helping to aim their torpedoes and depth charges.  He decides he wants to stay a fish, as he never liked being human anyway.  So the nerdy guy saves the day, and he even gets the "girl" in the end. I always loved this one as a kid, ever since my Grandma showed it to me, and it was one of my favorites.  It's also the earliest film to mix live action and cartoon characters that I think I've ever seen, besides Mary Poppins.

Some clips from this ridiculous movie, including an early TV spot from the 60's:

3. Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Original 1954 theatrical trailer:

Every time I watch clips of this film, I'm just floored by the visuals. The effects can hold their own against some of the best modern sci-fi movies made in the last thirty years.  Just shows how high budget this movie was in 1954 (Walt Disney Studios, even then, had the best talent and creative resources in the world and could do anything they wanted).   This movie very closely follows the old Jules Verne classic science fiction novel... it takes place in 1866, just after the end of the Civil War (and only a year after the Hunley was built). Professor Pierre Arronax (sorry I can't spell French words), and his manservant/sidekick/traveling companion Conseil (acted by Peter Lorry, creepy voice and all) are taking a vacation aboard a whaling ship. Aboard this whaling ship is a salty sailor by the name of Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), who claims to be the best harpooner in the Navy.

The ship is searching for a "sea monster" (a la Moby Dick) that has been destroying vessels in this part of the ocean. Well, sure enough they find it, and it rams the boat, making it sink. The professor and his loyal manservant (okay we'll just admit he's his boyfriend at this point) and Ned Land are the only survivors of the shipwreck.  They have apparently been "rescued" by this "sea monster", which is no monster at all...it's a boat that can sink itself! The captain of this strange vessel is a mysterious man named Captain Nemo, who welcomes the Professor aboard his futuristic ship, which he calls the Nautilus. They embark on an adventure that takes them several times around the world, under the surface of the ocean (hence the title 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea). When I was a kid I thought that meant they go to a depth of 20,000 leagues, which is of course preposterous (That would mean the ocean would have to be 69,046 miles deep)...kid imagination. 

I have gone back and re-read the original book as an adult, and interestingly enough, Jules Verne does vaguely describe the mysterious power source of the boat, which fuels it and provides its electrical power. Brighter than the sun, with almost infinite and inexhaustible energy supply, an endlessly replenishable fuel...seems like an amazing glimpse of nuclear power, something nobody had any grasp of in the 19th century. How fitting that the United States Navy decided to name the world's first operational nuclear submarine the USS Nautilus!

Jules Verne was an author a century ahead of his time, and this movie is appropriately also way ahead of its time.

Anyway, getting back to the visuals.  This movie set new groundbreaking standards for visual effects in 1954, much the same way as The Matrix did in the year 1999.  Despite the total lack of computers, matte composites or any modern film technique, this movie still looks pretty dang good, even by today's standards. The giant squid scene during the thunderstorm is still scary. 

A solid classic from the golden age of 20th century cinema (and Walt Disney's heyday), this movie is timeless. It's so purely imaginative and original that I think any attempt to remake or "reboot" it would only detract from this classic story, and not add to it.  If this movie is not out on DVD, I hope Disney will release it from their vault soon. I really want to watch it again, and own it to enjoy with my kids someday.  The movie was so successful and memorable that the movie-themed ride of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is still  one of the most popular attractions at Disney World, over sixty years later! As well as being one of the park's oldest attractions.

4. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)


This exciting survival drama film is loosely based on a true story.  A cruise ship called the S.S. Poseidon is celebrating New Year's Eve, when the ship is hit by a tsunami and goes belly-up as it slowly begins to fill with water and sink. A few survivors of the passengers have to struggle their way upward through the flooding decks of the crippled ship, until they reach the lowest upended deck at the bottom (now the top) of the ship, and then figure out a way to cut a hole in the hull to escape to fresh air and freedom. 

The sense of claustrophobia in this movie is spine-tingling and its suspenseful moments will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering from minute to minute if anyone will survive.  This movie is not as suitable for children or younger audiences, as there are some gory and graphic scenes. (One scene has the passengers carefully crawling through a deck which is on fire, surrounded by dead burnt bodies of the ship's crew) There is also some adult language in the film, so I think it would only be suitable for ages 14 and older.

Fear of death by drowning or suffocation is one of the most basic human instincts, and this film really pushes that fear as far as it can go.  I remember trying to imagine myself in the victims' situation, and wondering if I'd be able to survive or not.  (As a kid I also used to hold my breath when people in a movie were underwater, just to see if I could really last that long without air...don't ask. maybe all kids do stuff like that. Or maybe I'm just weird.) 

This drama was remade in 2006. I haven't seen the new version, but a review and comparison is here:

Grandpa Hugh liked survival stories, being the star of a real one himself. So it is not hard to imagine him enjoying this real adventure of a movie.

5. Das Boot (The Boat) -1981

German Trailer:

Wikipedia entry:

"Das Boot (German pronunciation: [das ˈboːt], German meaning "The Boat") is a 1981 German epic war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, and in several different home video versions of various running times.
An adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim's 1973 German novel of the same name, the film is set during World War II and tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The screenplay used an amalgamation of exploits from the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat.
Development began in 1979. Several American directors were considered three years earlier before the film was shelved. During production, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96 and one of Germany's top U-boat "tonnage aces" during the war, and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as consultants. One of Petersen's goals was to guide the audience through "a journey to the edge of the mind" (the film's German tagline Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes), showing "what war is all about".

Produced with a budget of 32 million DM (about $18.5 million), the film was released on September 17, 1981, and then re-released in 1997 in a longer director's cut version supervised by Petersen. It grossed over $80 million worldwide from these two theatrical releases and was a critical and financial success. Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. It was the second most expensive up until that time, after Metropolis."

I know I said this list was in no particular order, but I should have put this one at or near the top. Das Boot (The Boat) is one of the highest-grossing and highest-budget German films of all time. And one of only two German-themed war movies I have ever seen, the other one being All Quiet On The Western Front. 

The Boat shows World War II through the experience of the "bad guys," which is a very different and rare perspective.  Just to give some idea of how dangerous and deadly life in the German Navy was, during the years 1939-1945, Der Kriegsmarine lost 734 boats in the Atlantic Ocean alone, and about 28,000 crew men lost their lives. Those kind of losses are difficult to imagine, but they were passed over in this country because we must remember that history is written by the victor....

This movie is SCARY.  I would say it is suitable for audiences of age 18 and over.  If you want to experience how terrifying it was to be in a submarine under an enemy depth charge attack, look no further than this movie.

Das Boot/The Boat is pretty much non-stop carnage, under water in tight spaces where there is no escape in a life-or-death situation.  As I have explained to many people in living history, "In the Army you can run away from danger... In an airplane you can bail out with a parachute...on a boat you can jump overboard and swim to safety...but on a submarine there is NO escape. If something goes wrong, you're sealed and buried in a cold metal coffin."  Being on a submarine is honestly one of the scariest jobs I can imagine, second only to being an astronaut in space.  But in orbit you get a great view before you die...under the ocean there's only a few inches of metal between you and cold dark oblivion, and there's no windows to look out of.

Watching this movie, you can only feel bad for the hapless crew, knowing their lives meant so little to Hitler and the rest of the Nazi government.  If they died, there would be no burial, no funeral, no memorial service. They were sent on these missions inside these steel deathtraps which were basically suicide, the survival rate was so low among U-boat crews. And if they surrendered to the enemy, they would be dishonored as cowards and the Nazi government would likely murder their families, so they would have nothing to come home to even if they did.

"Das Boot" was the most intense naval war film ever made up to its time, and to this day it is still considered a classic in the genre.

Iconic picture.
The next few films are ones that sadly he did not live to see, but would have really enjoyed if he did.

6. Down Periscope (1996)

Theatrical Trailer:

I know for sure that Grandpa would have LOVED this movie, because it features both WWII and nuclear subs and it's HILARIOUS!  The premise is goofy from the start. 

Full IMDB synopsis:

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge (Kelsey Grammer), a capable--if somewhat unorthodox-- US Navy officer, is about to be denied command of his own submarine for a third time because of his unconventional ways (not to mention a widely known tattoo on his d*** reading "Welcome aboard!' that he'd gotten after getting drunk due to brushing his sub against a Russian trawler off Murmansk). Failure to secure a command will result in him being dropped from the command program and be assigned a desk job, and he is particularly opposed by Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern). Vice Admiral Dean Winslow (Rip Torn) finds the perfect use for Dodge, however, when Winslow launches a war-game to test the Navy's defenses against enemy diesel submarines. For this purpose Dodge gains command of the rusty WWII era Balao-class diesel sub, the USS Stingray. Adm. Winslow gives Dodge the order to "throw the book out" and to "think like a pirate" and advises that if he can win the war-game, including sinking a mock target in Norfolk harbor, Winslow will consider Dodge for command of a nuclear submarine.

Adm. Graham, motivated by his dislike for Dodge and his own ambition (he brags that he has never lost a war-game, and that he is in line for a third star), tries to arrange circumstances to make Dodge's mission even more difficult. Graham handpicks a motley crew for the Stingray consisting of rejects and misfits: hot-tempered and uptight Executive Officer Martin Pascal (Rob Schneider), rebellious Engineman 1st Class Brad Stapanek, sharp-eared Sonar Technician 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli, compulsive gambler Seaman Stanley "Spots" Sylvesterson, shock-prone (and shock-addled) electrician Seaman Nitro, and the not-so-culinary cook Seaman Buckman. Graham also institutes a pilot program for evaluating the feasibility of women serving on submarines, and Lieutenant Emily Lake (Lauren Holly) joins the crew as Diving Officer.

Using unorthodox tactics to offset their technological disadvantage, Dodge and the Stingray crew win their first objective by getting into and setting off flares in Charleston Harbor. Desperate to defeat Dodge, Graham cuts the containment area for the wargame in half without authorization. Running into trouble on their first attempt at Norfolk harbor, Dodge leaves the exercise area. Irate at this lapse in protocol, the zealous by-the-book Pascal attempts to gain command of the Stingray, but no one supports him. Without support, his attempt is considered mutiny and, thinking like a pirate, Dodge makes him walk the plank, straight into the nets of an alongside fishing boat.

During the Stingray's second attempt at Norfolk, Graham assumes personal command of the Los Angeles-class USS Orlando, headed by Commander Carl Knox (William H. Macy). After some risky maneuvers by the Stingray, the Orlando is able to chase her down and obtain a shooting solution which ends the game, but not before the Stingray accurately launched two live torpedoes at the dummy ship in Norfolk harbor.

Adm. Winslow congratulates Dodge on a job well done and advises him that he will not get a Los Angeles-class submarine as requested, but a Seawolf-class submarine, which is a newer and much larger ship. Dodge rejects the notion of getting a "proper crew" with the new boat and requests that he be allowed to transfer the crew of the Stingray. The movie ends with The Village People and the movie cast singing and dancing to 'In the Navy'.  

This movie is PURE FUN.  A motley crew of US Navy rejects in a rusty old World War II sub, pitted against the modern Navy's finest subs in the nuclear fleet! 

The "pirate" scenes are the best by far.

Post in progress...tune in soon for more classic undersea movies!

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