Naval films, oh how we love them.
From Mutiny on the Bounty to Operation Petticoat — offering boatfuls of viewing entertainment.
And so, we at Asia Times — who have nothing better to do — have come up with a Top Ten Naval Film list.
Discuss it, slam it, sink it, whatever. But above all, stream one of these films that you haven’t seen.
So, without further delay:
1. The Hunt For Red October (1990): OK, I start off with my personal favorite — I can virtually watch this movie again and again. Incredible performances by Sean Connery (avec the perfect toupee), playing the indefatigable commander Ramius, Scott Glenn as captain Bart Mancuso, Alec Baldwin as CIA agent Jack Ryan, Sam Neill as captain Borodin and James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer, to name but a few. The twists and turns as Ramius attempts to deliver the big, first-strike sub to the Americans, while the Soviet navy gives chase, still holds water, as they say. And then there are such epic lines as “He didn’t slip on his tea, did he captain?” and “One ping Vasily, one ping only.” Glenn told an interviewer that he briefly observed the actions of the captain of a real US nuclear sub to add realism to his character.
2. The Caine Mutiny (1954): What can one say about legendary actor Humphrey Bogart, which hasn’t been said before. The man is a pure genius, and his performance as the neurotic Captain Queeg on the USS Caine is brilliant in every sense of the word. In summary, the crew of a dilapidated World War II vessel sees Queeg’s unconventional behavior as irrational, and officer Thomas Keefer (Fred MacMurray) spreads suspicion about his suitability. When a dire situation during a storm forces an officer (Van Johnson) to relieve Queeg of his duties, he and Ensign Keith (Robert Francis) are tried for mutiny. The rivetting court-martial scene where Jose Ferrer, as Lt. Greenwald, breaks Queeq on the stand, is still considered one of the best in cinema history.
3. The Last Detail (1973): Again, one of my favourite films. Although there are no naval scenes so to speak, the ambience of this gritty film, which features two Navy men ordered to bring a young offender to prison, features a razor sharp Jack Nicholson giving one of his best performances. Nicholson, as “Bad-ass” Buddusky and Otis Young as “Mule” Mulhall, decide to give the naive Meadows, played brilliantly by Randy Quaid, a last bit of worldly fun. Of course, all kinds of hijinks ensues as we watch Meadows slowly mature, knowing full well that his journey is going to end with a long stint in the brig at Portsmouth. Best scene: When “Bad-ass” Buddusky goes after the threatening bartender, shouting “I am the shore patrol!”
4. Run Silent, Run Deep (1958): In this film, American submarine skipper P. J. Richardson (Cark Gable) is determined to exact vengeance from “Bungo Pete,” a Japanese destroyer ace who has sunk four US Navy subs in the Bungo Strait, including Richardson’s last boat. Richardson convinces silent-service commanders to award him a new command. His second-in-command is Lieutenant Commander Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster), who resents his assignment because he believes he should have been given a boat of his own, and because he frets about the skipper’s obsession with Bungo Pete. Gable’s visceral performance as the sub skipper and the deft direction of Robert Wise make this a must-see Pacific war film. Note: It also marks Don Rickles’ film debut.
5. Sink the Bismarck! (1960): Yes, I am a sucker for this 1960s era war film, which retraces the dramatic story of how the British navy hunted down and destroyed the menacing German battleship Bismarck. The attention to detail in this film is first-rate, including the casting. Kenneth More gives a strong and memorable performance as Captain John Shepard, as he is torn between the struggles in his own life, and the hunt for the mighty German ship. Battle sequences are also quite good, offering fine special effects for the day. As an aside, the sinking of the British flagship, HMCS Hood, proffered the greatest headline of all time, even though it had but two words: “Hood sunk.” Everyone in England knew what that meant. They also knew the Bismarck had to be destroyed.
6. PT-109 (1963): When US President John F. Kennedy was asked about his portrayal in the true story of the PT boat sunk by the Japanese and his subsequent WWII heroics, he said he was “embarrassed” by it all. And yeah, I’m a sucker for JFK, but then, compared to President Trump’s escape from military duty due to so-called “bone spurs,” it’s just reassuring to see a man of substance battle the Japanese and rescue his crew. And believe me, there is no exaggeration here: Jack, who had been on the swim team at Harvard, swam 3 1/2 miles, towing an injured crewman by a belt clamped in his teeth. At a later date, when asked to explain how he had come to be a hero, Kennedy replied laconically, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” And by the way, Cliff Robertson plays a pretty good young JFK in the film.
7. In Harm’s Way (1965): When it comes to war movies, it’s impossible to leave out John Wayne, The Duke himself — even though he never served a single day in any US service. In fact, director John Ford, who did serve, held it against the Duke, and never let him forget it. Naval Captain Torrey (Wayne) manages to bring his ship through the bombing of Pearl Harbor unscathed, but is later demoted when it is damaged in a subsequent battle. Back on land, he begins a reconciliation with his estranged son (Brandon de Wilde) and a romance with nurse Maggie (Patricia Neal), but duty calls him away when he and his firebrand friend, Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), are tasked with a dangerous mission. Dramatic naval warfare at its best, with the Duke!
8. Operation Petticoat (1959): I know, I know, but I can’t help it — this is such a watchable and funny film, and Cary Grant is marvellous. Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (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, but can’t find anyone who will take them off his hands. Oh my, what’s a sailor to do! Like I said, it isn’t Citizen Kane, folks, but it is entertaining.
9. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962): Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris … my god, need I say more? What a story, what a film, what a cast. Plus, beautiful Polynesian women — what could go wrong! Mutiny on the Bounty was the first motion picture filmed in the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process. It was partly shot on location in the South Pacific. Panned by critics, the film was a box-office bomb, losing more than US$6 million. Still, it is worth a view — even though Captain Bligh was typical among British sea captains of the day (I can think of a certain president who should be keel-hauled). Originally to have been helmed by Carol Reed, and finally directed by Lewis Milestone, who had little truck with Brando’s exploratory method, the film was blighted by appalling weather and even tragedy: one of the Tahitians lost his life shooting one arduous sea scene.
10. Murphy’s War (1972): Anything, absolutely anything Peter O’Toole has done, he excelled at — even his bad films are good! In Murphy’s war, he plays an Irish seaman who vows to settle the score with a U-boat that sank his ship off the Venezuelan coast. The sole survivor after the German sub has strafed the sea with machine-gun fire, he takes refuge in a mission and then discovers that the U-boat is still in hiding up river. Sian Phillips is wonderful as the pacifist Quaker doctor who falls in love with him and the direction of Peter Yates is spot on — terrific aviation sequences, too.
Foreign film bonus: Das Boot (1981): Superb film of a German submarine that patrols the Atlantic Ocean during World War II, manned by a crew that must contend with tense conflicts and long stretches of confined boredom. While war correspondent Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) observes day-to-day life aboard the U-boat, the grizzled captain (Jürgen Prochnow) struggles to maintain his own motivation as he attempts to keep the ship’s morale up in the face of fierce battles, intense storms and dwindling supplies. Fantastic view of the German sub fleet, which suffered the worst casualties of WWII.
— with files from Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, The National Interest, Senses Of Cinema