A U.S. sub commander, obsessed with sinking a certain Japanese ship, butts heads with his first officer and crew.
Even under normal circumstances, two opposing personalities thrust head to head are sure to light some sparks -- but throw in the added pressures of a claustrophobic, military submarine always subject to the constant threat of enemy fire, and suddenly you've got yourself a perfect recipe for motion picture drama. And while there have been many strong films set deep below the ocean's surface, Robert Wise's 'Run Silent, Run Deep,' is one of the genre's defining prototypes. Tense and handsomely crafted, the movie offers a slow-burn descent into obsession and mutiny, spearheaded by fantastic performances from two Hollywood legends.
When his submarine is destroyed by a Japanese ship, WWII Commander Rich Richardson (Clark Gable) becomes obsessed with tracking down the enemy vessel in order to get revenge. With a new sub now under his control, Richardson tirelessly trains the crew for his own personal vendetta, ignoring their official mission. But when Lt. Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) opposes Richardson's tactics, tempers flare leading to a possible mutiny -- all while the enemy diligently attempts to sink their submarine.
After a dramatic, ominous opening, Wise perfectly sets up Richardson's central drive, showing us the fateful attack that sunk his original ship. Gable takes on the role with powerful determination and blinded obsession. Dignified yet slightly arrogant, Richardson is clearly a good commander, but his quest for vengeance betrays his better qualities, putting his crew in unnecessary danger. Serving as his sparring partner, Burt Lancaster is equally effective in the role of Bledsoe. Calm and collected, the man carries an effortlessly heroic temperament, making it easy to see why the crew would turn to him for guidance. Together, both actors create a stirring central conflict, and the mounting tension between them is absolutely absorbing.
Taking a slow-burn approach, the filmmakers litter the first half with repeated attack drills and gradually escalating discontent among the crew as Richardson continues to push them harder and harder. This tactic gives us a glimpse into the minutia of submarine life and training, while carefully building toward the potential mutiny that rests at the center of the narrative. Likewise, it allows us to get to know the characters and dynamics between them before chaos erupts. And while these earlier scenes can be a little tedious, the director ramps up the action considerably in the second half, offering a thrilling and suspenseful series of submarine action scenes that add a visceral level of tension to the already palpable emotional drama.
To pull off the attack sequences, the movie primarily uses miniatures, and while the use of models definitely shows its age (wires guiding the subs and torpedoes are frequently visible), the effects work still gets the job done just fine. Likewise, the sets used for the submarine interiors are solid as well, even if they don't quite carry the same claustrophobic quality found in later cinematic efforts like 'Das Boot.' For his part, director Robert Wise stages the action and drama with handsome precision, and while the visual style can be a bit generic and old fashioned, the mixture of stationary shots and subtly moving frames does a decent job of portraying the dangerous submarine atmosphere.
With that said, several shots can't help but feel like studio sets and though the film's themes of loyalty, vengeance, and obsession are strong, the script's central dilemma is familiar and its examination of war is fairly simplistic. The Japanese are depicted as little more than an enemy that needs to be defeated, and each successful mission is greeted with exuberant celebration. Of course, it's clear that the writer's goal isn't to create an anti-war message, and the real focus remains on the opposing character dynamics between Richardson and Bledsoe
Serving as an influential precursor to later submarine thrillers like 'Crimson Tide,' 'Das Boot' and 'K-19: The Widowmaker,' 'Run Silent, Run Deep' remains an engaging and suspenseful underwater drama. Gable and Lancaster become formidable on-screen rivals, and watching them butt heads proves to be riveting. While the pacing can be on the slow side and certain elements of the script and production are outdated, the main conflicts are gripping and the director always keeps the runtime afloat, even under heavy enemy fire.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino brings 'Run Silent, Run Deep' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc that comes housed in a keepcase. After some logos and warnings, the disc transitions to a traditional menu screen. The packaging indicates the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a black and white 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio (incorrectly labeled as 1.85:1 on the box). With the exception of a few inconsistencies here and there, this is a very strong and respectful picture.
The source print is in good shape but there are occasional signs of age and damage, including minor specks, lines, and scratches. A natural layer of moderate grain is preserved throughout, offering a welcomed layer of filmic texture. For the most part, clarity is very strong, highlighting sharp fine details that reveal every pore of sweat on the tense submarine crew's brows. With that said, there are a few softer and flatter shots here and there that look like they might come from a different source. There is some negligible contrast pulsing, but by and large the grayscale is well balanced with even whites and deep blacks.
With no digital artifacts or unnecessary processing, 'Run Silent, Run Deep' hits Blu-ray with an impressive and authentic video transfer.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track along with English subtitles. There are some age-related issues, but the mix does a very fine job of complementing the story.
Speech is relatively clear and full, but the track does have a comparatively flat quality. Effects work is handled well, and there is a solid sense of ambiance throughout the submarine. Likewise, torpedoes and explosions carry a decent kick, especially considering the film's age. The movie's ominous score also come through with strong presence. With that said, minor background hissing can be heard throughout, and there are some intermittent pops in a few of the music cues. Thankfully, these issues aren't too distracting.
Though limited by its age, this is a solid track that helps to enhance the film's escalating tension.
'Run Silent, Run Deep' is a classic submarine thriller led by two fantastic performances from legendary actors Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Some elements of the production are a little old fashioned, but Robert Wise's direction remains strong and the film holds a clear influence on subsequent efforts in the genre. The video transfer and audio mix are both respectful and authentic. Sadly, the only supplement we get is a trailer. Still, this is a technically strong release for a very solid drama starring two Hollywood greats. Recommended.