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Bedford Incident, The (1965, Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier) Bedford Incident, The (1965, Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier) 

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Bedford Incident, The (1965, Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier)

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James Poe’s taut and carefully-constructed screenplay forThe Bedford Incidentwas vividly adapted from Mark Rascovitch’s novel for the screen and made telling use of his experience as a US Navy lieutenant during World War Two. The script gave the film’s co-producer Richard Widmark the powerful role of the martinet captain of a United States destroyer whose crew not only follow him without question but tend towards hero-worship as well.

The new ship’s doctor Martin Balsam is amazed to discover no malingerers: the crew are as efficient as the electronic equipment they operate to track the movements of Soviet submarines in the north Atlantic. Easy-going journalist Sidney Poitier comes aboard the USS Bedford to do a story on Widmark and is both fascinated and frightened by him. Also new on the USS Bedford is young Ensign James MacArthur, who becomes the target of Widmark’s constant barbed criticisms, and former German U-boat commander Eric Portman, who is there as a NATO observer.

When a Russian submarine is located in Greenland’s territorial waters, Widmark asks permission from NATO Naval Command to force the vessel to surface. He is refused. The submarine makes a run for the open sea and Widmark orders pursuit in the knowledge that it can only remain submerged for a finite period. Widmark’s quarry apparently shakes off its pursuer and goes to ground in heavy pack ice. But, after a night of silent waiting, the submarine is forced to surface and, despite warnings from Portman, Widmark refuses to break off the mock action. After hours at action stations, his crew are tense and living on their nerves. MacArthur, mishearing an order, fires a nuclear missile at the submarine which is destroyed – but not before it has managed to launch atomic torpedoes at the Bedford…

The Bedford Incident marked the first film in which Poitier was cast simply as an actor and not as a black actor. The movie made no mention of his colour. Poitier, although his role was much less showy than Widmark’s, nevertheless gave a first-rate performance and made a strong impression. He ‘does an excellent job in both the light and serious aspects of his role,’ said Variety, ‘and manages to leave a personal stamp on all his scenes.’

production details
USA / 102 minutes / 1965

Director:James B. Harris
Writers:James Poe, from the novel by Mark Rascovitch,

cast
Richard Widmark as Captain Eric Finlander, U.S.N.
Eric Portman as Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke, Deutsche Marine
Sidney Poitier as Ben Munceford
James MacArthur as Ensign Ralston, U.S.N.
Martin Balsam as Lieut Cmdr. Chester Potter, M.D., U.S.N.
Wally Cox as Seaman Merlin Queffle
Michael Kane as Commander Allison Executive Officer – Bridge
Colin Maitland as Seaman Jones – Bridge
Paul Tamarin as Seaman 2nd Class – Bridge
Frank Lieberman as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge
Burnell Tucker as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge
James Caffrey as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge
Brian Davies as Lieutenant Beckman U.S.N. – Communications
Ed Bishop as Lieutenant Hacker U.S.N. – Communications
Shane Rimmer as Seaman 1st Class
Donald Sutherland as Hospitalman Nerney – Sick Bay

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