Before he fell into the big-budget trap of corporate-style moviemaking in the late-‘60s, Robert Wise was turning out some of the best mainstream genre pics of the ‘Fifties. From the classic Sci-Fi of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL/’51 to his still underappreciated boxing pic SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME/’56. From the ensemble boardroom drama of EXECUTIVE SUITE/’54 to everybody’s favorite WWII submarine pic, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP. And rightly so. It’s near perfect commercial filmmaking, with top perfs from a pitch (and yaw) perfect cast. (Note what a fine supporting actor Don Rickles was before he became an insult comedian.) Apparently co-stars Clark Gable & Burt Lancaster didn’t get along off screen which probably helped their on screen characterizations as Sub Commander & ‘Second.’ John Gay’s script puts up one beautifully judged, believable story beat after another, with ‘reveals’ you won’t see coming, built around a solid production that convinces without calling attention to itself. (The sea-going models of the day are obvious, but not distracting.) Plus the all-time best sonar ‘pings.’ They even manage to keep the patriotic bombast under control. Basically, the film plays better than ever.
DOUBLE-BILL: No need to bother with a plot précis, but just in case: Gable, licking his wounds after losing sub & crew in the Bongo Straits, gets command of a well-drilled sub Lancaster is due to take over. Pushing a sullen crew to their limits & skirting official orders, Gable heads back to the Straits for another try at his nemesis, with Lancaster offering, at best, reluctant support. You’ll find the same character set-up of newly assigned, seasoned commander & popular, overdue ‘Second’ playing out between Harrison Ford & Liam Neeson in Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER/’02. Great if you can just get by a misconceived hyped-up/fake-out opening reel.