Up Periscope (1959)
“A story as big as the seas that rock with its glory!”
Director: Gordon Douglas
Cast: James Garner, Edmond O’Brien, Andra Martin
Synopsis: Lieutenant Braden discovers that Sally, the woman he’s been falling in love with, has actually been checking out his qualifications to be a U.S. Navy frogman.
James Garner was still most familiar to audiences as Western hero Maverick in 1959, so it’s perhaps a surprise that Warners didn’t try to capitalise on his popularity by sticking him in a Western with a veteran like Randy Scott, someone with his own modest fan base who could carry the film if Garner’s TV fans failed to show. Instead, they put him in a submarine with crusty old Edmond O’Brien and the usual crew of stereotypes. Given that maybe 70per cent of the movie takes place on the sub, it’s something of a mystery why the studio chose to film Up Periscope in widescreen. Usually makers of this kind of movie try to emphasise the claustrophobic atmosphere of a submarine, not diminish it.
The likeable Garner plays the likeable Lt. Braden, who is understandably dismayed to discover that the foxy young chick (Andra Martin) he’s been wooing for a whole week prior to popping the question is actually a Naval intelligence officer checking him out for a highly dangerous mission. It appears the Japs have developed a code that the US can’t crack, so they need someone to infiltrate the island from which the coded messages are being transmitted and steal a copy of it without the Japs realising it’s been copied. He’s transported to his mission by sub commander Paul Stevenson (O’Brien), who’s suffering something of a crisis of confidence after losing a man on a previous mission.
Up Periscope is the kind of routine war drama that Hollywood used to knock out with monotonous regularity for a couple of decades following the end of hostilities. It contains all the usual ingredients – sweaty, bare-chested lower ranks looking at each other worriedly as the sub tries to hide from the enemy; the comic relief (Alan Hale Jr.) who’s almost never particularly comical; the highly-strung crew member (Richard Bakalyan) who swings his fists whenever things get stressful. It also has the usual situations: silent running through enemy territory, the sub forced to surface in enemy waters in order to undergo repairs, the wounded officer sacrificing himself for the good of the crew, and so on.
The mission itself has an almost surreal air of outlandishness. Need to get into a heavily fortified enemy Japanese camp without getting noticed? No problem – send in a strapping six-foot white American. To be fair, that’s the most suspenseful part of the film – which isn’t much of a stretch to be honest. And even that sequence is weakened by an inappropriate flashback that clears up Braden’s romantic problems. Up Periscope ‘gratefully acknowledges’ the co-operation of the US navy in its end credits which tells you pretty much all you need to know: any conflict between the crew members on the submarine will be motivated by noble reasons on the part of the protagonists rather than because one of them is inherently bad with no redeeming features, and all will be resolved with no loss of face to anybody. Consequently, while the movie won’t bore you, it won’t have you longing for a life on – or under – the sea, either.
(Reviewed 21st May 2012)