Submarine Films

I’m a sucker for submarine films, particularly World War II films.  It’s not the war so much as the thriller aspect, the cat-and-mouse pursuit, and the challenges of men living underwater in a long tube.

Some of my favorite submarine films are: Operation Pacific, Destination Tokyo, Submarine Command, The Enemy Below, Run Silent, Run Deep, Operation Petticoat, Up Periscope!, Murphy’s War, Das Boot, U-571, Below, On the Beach, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Ice Station Zebra, The Hunt for Red October, K-19 and Down Periscope.

These are a mixed bag of films, WWII, Cold War, Atlantic, Pacific, drama, comedy and science fiction.  Each of these films deserve their own review.

I added a new one to the list: Torpedo Run. Released in 1958, directed by Joseph Pevney,  and starring Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine.

Torpedo Run was a fairly standard war film but it stands out for several reasons.  In the film, the Greyfish is in pursuit of an aircraft carrier that led the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The thrust of the film is the sinking of this career.  Glenn Ford plays Doyle the sub skipper who has a personal marker in the story.  His wife and daughter stayed in the Philippines and were captured by the Japanese. To make matters worse, they are used for bait to lure the sub into a precarious position.  Doyle must make the decision to attack the ship carrying his family.  Ultimately, this is a film about friendship and the cost of that friendship under battle.

Ford plays his usual steely force but does allow the mixture of guilt and battle fatigue.  He’s cool under stress and doting on his wife and daughter.  Critics thought this was the same Ford performance as in many other films.  Ernest Borgnine played friend and loyal exec-officer, who fights for his friend, even giving up command of submarine to stay at his side.  Battle will stress this friendship.

The battle sequences are better than average but again, the critics zeroed in on what looked like miniatures in battle sequences.  In 1958, that wasn’t unusual, and it didn’t look that unrealistic.  Is this film better than the B-films being churned out to keep up with production demand? I believe so.

Here’s a partial synopsis provided by the American Film Institute

In the South Pacific in 1942, U.S. Lt. Cmdr. Doyle and the crew of the submarine Greyfish take part in an intensive hunt for the Japanese carrier Shinaru, which led the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to the tensions brought about by the search, Doyle is anxious for news on the disposition of his wife and daughter, who stayed in Manila after the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese. Doyle is plagued with guilt that he did not insist on sending his wife stateside when she demanded that the family remain together in the South Pacific. After the Greyfish successfully attacks a Japanese destroyer, Doyle and his executive officer, Lt. Sloan, receive news that all the Americans in the Philippines have been safely transferred as prisoners of war from Manila. Additional news is that  the Shinaru is reported to be returning to Tokyo Bay, with a defensive escort that includes the transport ship carrying the American POWs, including Doyle’s family. The Greyfish is assigned to attack the Shinaru. Suspecting that the Shinaru intends to use the transport as a protective screen, Sloan tries to dissuade Doyle from going ahead with the mission, but Doyle is determined.


When the Greyfish sights the convoy escorting the Shinaru, Doyle begins his attack, after which the POW transport places itself between the Greyfish and the Shinaru. Sloan pleads with Doyle not to risk killing Sloan’s family, but he proceeds with the attack. Although they attempt to fire underneath the transport, the torpedoes hit the ship, which then breaks up.

They watch in dismay as the Japanese allow the survivors to thrash about, hoping to lure the Greyfish to the surface to rescue them.  Doyle gives the order to depart. Later, the Greyfish is summoned back to Pearl Harbor, butDoyle refuses, wanting to use the sixteen unused torpedoes.  Doyle trails the Shinaru at a safe distance. After the Shinaru and remnants of the convoy enter Tokyo Bay, Doyle fires upon a tug pulling a protective webbing to enclose the harbor and uses the distraction of the sinking tug to slip into the bay. A Japanese destroyer detects the Greyfish in the bay, but Doyle keeps the submarine precariously hidden in a mine field, and when the destroyer follows the submarine it is blown up.

Ernest Borgnine and Glenn Ford.

Doyle then navigates the Greyfish through the mine field for a shot at the Shinaru , but its protective screen again places another ship between the submarine and its objective. After a second destroyer sets out in pursuit of the Greyfish, Doyle pilots his ship back into the mine field for protection. Following the suggestion of a British crew member, Doyle detonates several mines to make the Japanese believe the Greyfish has been destroyed.

When the destroyer returns to the harbor, Doyle blows a hole in the protective webbing with the last of his torpedoes, enabling the Greyfish to escape.

Exhausted, Barney orders the ship back to Pearl Harbor, then retires to his quarters where he sleeps for three days.  After the Greyfish returns to port,Sloan is summoned to the Admiral’s office.  Sloan is informed that he has been promoted and is to receive his own command. Sloan presses for Doyle to have another opportunity to go after the Shinaru. 

The admiral wants Doyle to have a desk job and gets Sloan to admit that Doyle was blacked out for three days, but insists his commander is fit. When Sloan refuses his command in order to remain with the Greyfish, Setton agrees to allow Barney one more mission.

Partnered with another submarine, the Bluefin , the Greyfish heads back out to sea to Kiska harbor. Doyle questions Sloan’s loyalty, even though Sloan came to his support. The Shinaru has been sighted near Kiska. The Greyfish and Bluefin speed to Kiska, where extreme fog and rough seas prevent them from attacking the moored ships. When spotted by the Shinaru ‘s escort, the Greyfish dives for protection, but strikes a defensive cable of logs which tears off the ship’s antennae and damages the radar. In the collision, Barney sustains a broken arm, but using sonar, the Greyfish detects that the Shinaru is weighing anchor. With an enemy destroyer bearing down on his damaged submarine, they have just one shot at the Shinaru .

Just after launching its torpedoes at the battleship, the Greyfish is bombarded by depth charges from the destroyer and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The Bluefin locates the sunken submarine and comes to its rescue.

Using aqualungs, the crew of the Greyfish swim out of the submarine and are taken onboard the Bluefin, Doyle witnesses the sinking of the Shinaru.

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