Sunday, July 26, 2009

Don't Make a Scene: Run Silent, Run Deep

The Story: Of course, in a movie called "Run Silent, Run Deep the most important things don't get said.

The 1958 sub-movie presents the conflicts of the American and Japanese navies in World War II in microcosm with only a specific area of danger being the focus and returned to again and again. In a further reduction, the warring sides are reflected in the conflicts amid the crew of the Naval submarine Nerka. Some of the men side with sub-mate Exec Jim Bledsoe, while others—after a, to some eyes, successful breaking-in period—defer to the elder Captain Richardson, who's lost one command already, and seems determined to lose another in an obsessive quest for revenge. That he pulled strings to usurp Bledsoe's command of the Nerka has spilled the first of bad blood between the two men, and has caused conflict in Bledsoe himself. That Richardson has also demonstrated canny and unconventional maneuvers to increase enemy tonnage sunk can't be denied, but the risks he takes are also high, and the crew is divisive and Bledsoe...conflicted.

What a way to fight a war. But Lancaster was drawn to the story and its interlocking conflicts and elements of surprise, obsession and strategy. Lancaster was like that, too. "Run Silent, Run Deep" was one of his concessions to the movie business where he would divide the resources of his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster between risky prestige pictures (like "Sweet Smell of Success" and "Elmer Gantry") and more crowd-pleasing efforts like this one. And the conflicts? What motion picture was ever made without one?*

But at the helm of the film, with its producer star and its Hollywood super-star at the top of the marquee, was Robert Wise, a journeyman director who, if he didn't find the most artistic way to make a picture, always found the most practical. Wise was able to negotiate shooting in cramped quarters and restricted working-days for Gable to get the maximum effect without any mis-steps. He was, after all, an editor before he was a director, and was credited for editing "Citizen Kane;" he knew what was needed to get the story across.

For this scene, the set works against him. Wise was able to get a good angle on Gable, doing the scene from his bunk, but for Lancaster, the angle was problematic. It's more Lancaster's scene than The King's, but the only way to shoot it would have had Lancaster looking askance at the camera, making him weaker in the exchange and robbing the audience of seeing most of his expression. So Wise shoots Lancaster dead-on, with Lancaster looking below the camera lens to make this important conciliatory scene stronger. The men have to be seen looking at each other and coming to their realizations separately. Their arguments have been made in the open and out loud. Their reconciliation is made silently, and dismissed as unnecessary. They're on the same paqe now—they just got there differently. Actions now, not words.

The Set-Up: Executive Officer Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) has relieved Captain "Rich" Richardson (Clark Gable) of command of the Naval sub Nerka. Richardson lies in his quarters, suffering black-out's from an injury he's sustained in the torpedo room. Now, with repairs made and the sub headed back to Pearl Harbor from the dangerous Bungo Straits off Japan, the crew has settled down a bit from their previous fist-fights and belly-aching. But a recent broadcast from "Tokyo Rose" naming the Nerka as destroyed and mentioning specific names of the crew has Bledsoe thinking there's more to the story, and more to be done before going home. But first, he has some unfinished business.

Captain Jim Bledsoe: How d'you feel?
Captain Rich Richardson: I'm alright.
Bledsoe: Repairs are completed. We're ready to move.
Richardson: The crew must be very happy.
Bledsoe: Uh-huh.

Richardson: Aren't you? That's what you wanted, isn't it?

Bledsoe: That's what I wanted.

Richardson: (looks at him) I see. You're going back to the Straits. Bledsoe: That's right.
Richardson: (suspicious) What changed your mind?

Bledsoe: I found out how they detected us. Those fishing barges along the coast have been picking up our garbage sacks. For the first time, we have a real advantage.

Richardson: Sure, Jim. I made the same speech. But you and I both know that the odds are still against us. There's always a calculated risk, the unknown factor. Let's not kid ourselves. You're going back 'cause you've been through it. Because you have to go back.

Bledsoe: You knew all along I would.

Richardson: Let's say I had a hunch your order to retreat wouldn't be carried out.

Bledsoe: Okay, Rich. I guess the real reason I came in here was to tell you that I...

Richardson: Good luck, Jim.

"Run Silent Run Deep"

Words by John Gay

Pictures by Russell Harlan and Robert Wise

"Run Silent Run Deep" is available on DVD from MGM Home Video.

* I dunno, but they must have been pretty dull!


Walaka said...

Man, we stumbled across this on THIS or PBS or something the other night and it was impossible not to watch. Great stuff.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah. It's one of those movies that you hear about and go "Oh, I'll catch it someday." rather than seek it out. But, it keeps you hooked with an interlocking series of story-lines that leads to a mystery you never knew existed. Nothing jingo about it, but it is about things that Matter. A crew of great character-actors, too.

Jim said...

I first saw this movie while reading notes for a test on the history of WWII...just casually reviewing.

And about fell over when I saw the Burt Lancaster introduce himself to Gable with my...real name.