UPON FURTHER REVIEW: HERO WORSHIP RUNS DEEP by Brad Eastland, Dr. of Ancient Filmology

September 15, 2010
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      When I was a kid—kid as in young man—my make-believe hero was Clark Gable.   My favorite movie star.   He was everything I thought a movie star should be; dynamic, charismatic, combustible, with a face and persona that filled up the screen.   And it’s not like I’m the only one who thought so.   Here’s my column a few months back on why Gable was once thee biggest movie star that ever was: http://www.laverneonline.com/2010/02/08/the-greatest-movie-star-of-them-all/

      But then as I wandered through adulthood, and my tastes changed, and my mental library of movies got bigger and bigger, Gable slipped a little bit in my personal fave rankings.   Don’t get me wrong, I never did lose my man-love for “The King”.   I just wound up preferring a few other giants more.   Stewart, Bogie, Cooper, Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, and Pacino were soon all nipping at Gable’s heels in my personal Pantheon of screen idols.





      And one more.   Burt Lancaster.   My favorite movie star.   Ever.   Burt had it all.   Great at drama, great at comedy, dynamic, charismatic, combustible, sensitive, daring in his choices of roles, and possessed and blessed with the best combination of great face, great hair, and great body of any male movie maven who ever graced the silver screen (no, I’m not gay).   Here’s a column I wrote a while ago about Burt:    http://www.laverneonline.com/2010/03/21/upon-further-review-mr-murphy-you-are-forgiven-by-the-dr-of-ancient-filmology/

      Wouldn’t it be great—one might wax—if there could be a movie with both those guys in it?

      Well it did happen.   Once.

      The film is called “Run Silent, Run Deep”, released in 1958.   A good, old-fashioned, solid as a rock World War II yarn.   You should go on-line and rent or buy it.   Today.   It’s your one chance to see my first favorite movie star and my last favorite movie star duke it out on film.

      Run Silent, Run Deep” is a story about one man’s unquenchable thirst for revenge.   Gable plays a sub captain whose sub was blown to bits by a Japanese destroyer called the ‘Akikaze’, in 1942, early in the war, killing all but a few of his crew.   Obsessed with getting even, Gable approaches the Navy high command and makes a pitch to get his hands on another boat, another sub, to take back to the South Pacific to hunt down the Akikaze and finally sink her.   He cites his previous experience fighting in those particular Japanese-controlled waters as giving him an advantage as a commander there.   The high command agrees with Gable, and assigns him to another sub to do the job.   The script definitely has a “Moby Dick” feel to it, with Gable a modern-day Ahab and the Akikaze his Great White Whale….

      The problem with Gable’s new sub is that its command was supposed to go to Lancaster’s character.   Its captain had been wounded, and Burt was supposed to be named the new captain.   So when Gable gets command of the sub there is instant resentment, not only from Burt but from the sub’s whole Burt-loving crew.   That resentment turns to loathing when Gable begins to mercilessly drive the men in their daily combat drills.   But when Gable finally sinks a Japanese “tin can” (Navy lingo for a destroyer) with “two fish right down the throat” (Navy lingo for two torpedoes fired head-on into the bow, rather than into the ship’s side in the easier, conventional way), the crew begins to see Gable as both genius and seafaring god.  

      So the movie soon evolves into not only a fight with the Japanese Navy, but also a fight between Gable and Lancaster for control of the hearts and minds of their men.

      It’s a fine little movie.   Running only 93 minutes it moves right along, like a torpedo cutting smoothly through salt water.   Jack Warden and Brad Dexter are excellent in key supporting roles, as is Nick Cravat, who met Burt on the streets of New York City when they were snot-nosed ten year olds, and parlayed that friendship into appearances in nine count ‘em nine Burt Lancaster movies.   They were even fellow acrobats in the same circus troupe before Burt cracked his way into the movies.   Cravat and Lancaster even died the same year, 1994.   We should all have friends that good.

      There is also one other supporting player that makes “Run Silent, Run Deep” worth renting.   Don Rickles.   No, I’m not kidding.  Don Rickles makes his screen debut in this film as one of the crew.   And he’s terrific!   Hard to believe this is the same famous “insult comic” we all know, the lovable crab who appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show over 100 times.

      Rickles is still alive.   He’s 84.   I wonder what he thinks when the late show comes on and he sees himself up there on the big screen, frolicking with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.   I suspect he is thoroughly infected with awe, disbelief, and admiration.   No doubt why he often did his Clark Gable impression on the Tonight Show.   One of the best Gables I’ve ever seen, by the way.

      Run Silent, Run Deep” profits from having a fine, big-time director in Robert Wise, who directed both “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story”.   And the screenplay was based on a novel by former U.S. Naval Commander Edward Beach, so it definitely packs a high degree of realism with respect to lingo and battle logistics.   I know this to be true because my boyhood friend, Captain William F. Young, U.S.N., once told me so.   (I suspect Bill has secretly watched “Run Silent, Run Deep” about 456 times….)

      I’m not sure if you’d call this a man’s picture or a woman’s picture.   It’s unusual in that there is only one solitary scene that even includes a woman; Gable’s character’s wife, who is only on screen for about two minutes.   So in that sense it’s a man’s picture.   On the other hand, with two hunky Hollywood heart-throbs dominating the screen, doesn’t that make it a chick flick?   At least from a fantasy standpoint?   I don’t know.

      But it’s a tough assignment for Gable and Lancaster either way.   Remember, over 90% of this film takes place either within the claustrophobic confines of a submarine or on the ocean’s surface looking out at virtually nothing.   The viewer has to want to keep watching, without the change-of-pace of a pleasing panorama to give his (or her) eye a break.   But the boys pull it off.   Gable is nearing the end of the line in this film; he’s 57 but looks closer to 67, and a beat-up 67 at that.   Too much drinking, I suspect.   Lancaster is 44 and looks 34, at the very peak of his dynamism and smoldering sexuality (no, I’m really not gay).  But Gable holds his own beautifully in their head-to-head scenes.   Two all-time-great stars fighting for your eyes and attention.

      Still you have to wonder.   With no women to distract us, and all the action beneath the water’s surface in such confined quarters, why is “Run Silent, Run Deep” so compelling?   Why do we watch? 

      I have the answer.   It’s because they just don’t make movie stars like they used to.   I’ll prove it.   Name one modern-day “star” who could go head-to-head and toe-to-toe on screen with a Lancaster or a Gable, and hold his own.   Hmm?   Can you name even one?   I thought not….


The Doctor, Brad Eastland

The Doctor, Brad Eastland

Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:







One Response to “UPON FURTHER REVIEW: HERO WORSHIP RUNS DEEP by Brad Eastland, Dr. of Ancient Filmology”

  1. Gable beats Lancaster any day of the week, bro. So stifle that man-love, will ya?

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