Run Silent, Run Deep (1958 with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster)


USA / 1958

Director: Robert Wise
Writer: John Gay, based on the novel by Commander Edward L Beach

Cast: Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Jack Warden, Brad Dexter, Don Rickles, Nick Cravat, Joe Maross, Mary LaRoche, Eddie Foy, Rudy Bond, HM Wynant, John Bryant, Ken Lynch, Joel Fluellen, Jimmy Bates, John Gibson

Critic Ronald Bergan described this tense submarine drama – which stars two of Hollywood’s greats, Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster – as “a compulsive profile-to-profile confrontation between two major stars.”

Gable is the sole survivor from a submarine that has been destroyed by a Japanese ship nicknamed the “Bongo Pete,” which has a tour of duty in the lethal Bongo Straits of Japan. When he returns to Navy headquarters in Pearl Harbor, he is given command of another submarine, the Nerka.

However the crew of his new command don’t trust him, working on the basis that there must be something wrong with a commander who is the only one to survive the destruction of his last command. This dissent is led by Lancaster, in the role of a stern lieutenant who expected to be made captain of the Nerka.

In spite of Navy orders to keep out of the Bongo Straits, Gable is determined to get even with the Bongo Pete and heads off into the restricted waters. The crew take this as a sign of the captain’s mental instability, which when linked to accusations of cowardice, is enough to send them over the edge to mutiny. Lancaster attempts to take charge of the sub, but while all this is going on under the sea, the Bongo Pete is sailing the ocean, looking for the opportunity to bomb the Americans out of existence, and Lancaster and Gable have to settle their differences or face the Japanese wrath…

The film is a taut thriller, but at no point does it give up the interplay of characters for action. However, behind-the-scenes stories suggest that it was not a joy for cast or crew to work on. The film came about as a project of Lancaster’s with his partners Harold Hecht and James Hill. Previously, their production company had been the power house behind sucessful films such as Marty and Bachelor Party, as well as the Lancaster-Gary Cooper twinning in Vera Cruz. Shooting of Run Silent, Run Deep started before the script was ready. This left Gable unsure of how his character was to turn out, while Hecht, Hill and Lancaster squabbled about the script. The film was also hindered by Gable’s age. He was only a couple of years away from his death and was too old for the part. However, this didn’t prevent him from turning in a tremendous performance that drives much of the rest of the film.

Said Variety: “Both Gable and Lancaster, who are made to order for films of this sort, give strong, convincing performances. This is the way their fans like to see them and they come through effectively. Jack Warden as Gable’s yeoman and defender provides another standout portrayal. Brad Dexter, as a malcontent officer, is appropriately obnoxious and Don Rickles, Nick Cravat, Joe Maross, Eddie Foy III, Rudy Bond, HM Wynant and John Bryant are good as enlisted men and officers.” Motion Picture Guide said Gable: “makes the most of it with a very good performance. The entire film, in fact, is one of the better submarine dramas ever made, tense and claustrophobic.”