Mr. Jim Bloom’s survey of films, television productions and submarine books in the April 2007 issue of The Submarine Review has prompted me to comment.
The article devotes some space to two quintessential war pictures of the era (1941-45), Crash Dive (1943) and Destination Tokyo (1944). The purpose of both was to promote public morale and patriotism but also the careers of Tyrone Power (who became a Marine Aviator immediately after completion of Crash Dive) and Cary Grant, then at the height of his career.
Mr. Bloom makes an excellent observation when he writes: “Scenes inside the submarine (Destination Tokyo) were shot on soundstage sets (which were constructed to be unrealistically spacious)”. The same criticism holds for the interior shots of the submarine (actually USS MARLIN – SS205) loaned by ComSubLant to make the film.
With regard to Crash Dive, there are several positive points to make:
- The technicolor photography is wonderful
- The pyrotechnics late in the film are magnificent
- Excellent – but all too few, shots of The Lower Base and of MACKEREL (SS-204) and an “O” boat at their berth – An overview of The Sub Base waterfront looking downstream includes the new automobile bridge over the Thames River. Then about 20% complete.
- A marvelous shot from overhead of MARLIN outbound in the Thames River, possibly taken from one of the bridges.
The original story was by W.R. Burnett, who was the author of a number of tough guy novels, notably Little Caesar (1929) which was made into the famous gangster film of the same name ( 1930). As a screenplay, the story was cliche-ridden, a combination of cannonball melodrama and fantasy. Only MARLlN was able to gel below the surface of the story!
Turning to Destination Tokyo I find some interesting points:
- Submarine COPPERFIN departed Mare Island on Christmas Eve, 1941 … In the forward torpedo room the COB was describing for 1he new men board, the occasion, The previous Chris/mas ( 1940) when his submarine was depth charged off Java, presumably by the Dutch!
- COPPERFlN made no reported port calls between Christmas Eve 1941 and April 1942 (the month of the Doolittle Tokyo raid); one is disposed to look upon her Oil King as a miracle man! Similarly, the ability of the boats evaporator to provide fresh water so that the crew were able, always to be clean shaved and well turned out is another miracle. But I suppose that ‘In the movies we can do anything.”
I am familiar with the mission of THRESHER (SS-200) to act as weather ship for the Tokyo raid and can’t help but wonder what her crew thought while watching Destination Tokyo during their time off watch!
It is interesting to note that the initial technical advisor on the film was the late Dudley W. Morton, Skipper of the famous WAHOO (SS-238). He was succeeded by LCDR Philip Compton who had retired on disability prior to the war and was an experienced submarine officer. A photo of CDR Horton inspecting the mock-up compartment of the submarine was published in the theater arts section of The New York Times on a Sunday in 1943.
I should like to offer a list of three submarine films which were made during the I 930’s and are examples of better motion pictures, even with their limitations, than the two films discussed:
Morganrot (DAWN) UFA Gennan 1933
Hell Below MGM/USA 1933
Submarine D-1 Warner/USA 1937
Three other American features between 1929 and 1939 are worthy of note for the reasons given:
Men without Women Fox/USA 1928
- Made in San Diego aboard a Bureau S-boat (S-11/ 17)
- Trite, melodramatic, too much bar hopping by sailors on liberty
- Part silent/part soundtrack
- Realistic interiors; poor model/work
- A few shots of Bureau S-boats operating on the surface
- Directed by John Ford
- No connection to the anthology of short stories by E.Hemingway with the same title
The Seas Beneath Fox/USA 1933
- Filmed off Catalina Island
- A WWI story involving a Q ship and a U-boat
- The U-boat is played by USS ARGONAUT (SS-166) (SM
1 ). At the time still skippered by CDR William Quigley
SM-1, who had commissioned her at Portsmouth in 1928
- A corny story, but good sea action shots
- Interiors looked realistic, but few shots
- Directed by John Ford
Thunder Afloat MGM/USA 1939
- Another WWI story involving a Q ship and a U-boat
- The U-boat is played by USS STURGEON (SS-187), then almost brand new
- Interestingly only for the few shots of STURGEON. The underwater shots are from Hell Below
The German film Morgenrot (Dawn) UFA 1933
- Utilized a Finnish submarine of the Vetehinen* class
- Described the exploits of a U-boat in the North Sea in WWI
- Very realistic interiors; grittiness of life aboard well communicated
- The climax is a Q ship vs. U boat battle
- Melodrama is minimal; fatalism predominates along with patriotism (*designed by the illegal German Design Bureau)
- In German, no sub-titles, but story is easy to follow
- It premiered in Berlin on the night of the day that Hitler became Chancellor. He attended the premiere with his entourage and though a landlubber he acclaimed it!
Hell Below MGM/USA 1933)
- A complete re-working of Pigboats ( 1931 ), a novel by Commander Edward Ellsberg, USN, which dealt with American L boat operations out of Bantley Bay, Ireland, in WWI.
- The Submarine USS AL-14 was played by USS S-29(SS134)
- The film was made at Pearl Harbor and featured the sinking by S 29 torpedoes of a laid-up four stacker DD disguised as an enemy minelayer.
- EXCELLENT interior shots; realistic studio mock-ups and exciting sea action shots. The interior grittiness of submarine life is well depicted; excellent underwater shots of S29
- The study as it departs from the submarine activity is completely ridiculous and detracts from the impact of the film
- Walter Houston and Robert Montgomery were featured; well directed by action film specialist Jack Conway
Submarine D-1 Warner/USA 1937
- One of serval recruiting posters made for the Navy by Warner Brothers (others: Here Comes the Navy, Devil Dogs of the Air; Wings of the Navy, Dive Bomber)
- Original story by LCDR Frank W. Spig Wead, USN (Ret.)
- The story is absolutely worthless and trite to the greater degree but the film, although with inaccuracies, provides a fascinating picture of submarine school activities in the 1930’s
- The film is replete with shots of the fleet during operations, interspersed with operations by Squadron Six, based on USS HOLLAND (AS-3) at San Diego
- Vessels were referred to by their real names, including
• USS DOLPHIN (SS-169)
• USS FALCON (AS R-2)
• USS ORTOLAN (ASR-5)
• USS CINCINNATI (CL-6)
- The McCann/Momsen Rescue Chamber is shown in operations as well as training in the Momsen Long escape device
- The model work of DOLPHIN is excellent and was featured in an article in one of the science magazines in the late 1930’s
- The director was Lloyd Bacon, a naval reserve officer
- Music of the most stirring appeal was by Max Shriner and was re-orchestrated for the film DIVE BOMBER (I 941) with original story by Spig Wead who re-worked the submarine theme he had previously used to a beautifully photographed Technicolor film concerning research in aviation medicine.
In closing, I must apologize for the length of this article but I was so stimulated by Mr. Bloom’s article that recollections kept occurring to me.
You may have gathered that I much enjoy my membership in the Naval Submarine League and your magazine