“Alaaarm!” “Dive! Dive! Dive!”

Lou Nell poses with periscope on the USS Ohio SSBN 726
Lou Nell aboard the USS Ohio (SSBN-726)

“Alaaarm! Alaaarm!” A German submariner secures the upper hatch and a U-boat begins a crash dive. “Dive! Dive! Dive!” A US submariner secures the upper hatch and his submarine begins a crash dive. Or maybe there is silence, deep blue water all around then, ping…ping…ping…I’m hooked. I’m fascinated with submarines and love submarine movies.  

My dad was a Navy man before, during and a little after WWII. He never lost his love for being on the water. He loved vessels of all types including submarines, though he never served on one. I grew up in Port Angeles, Washington. Dad was then manager for Foss Tug. I remember two different times a submarine docked. Both times dad was invited aboard and once I got to join him. I remember submerging and going into the engine room. That big diesel, its pistons larger than me cranking up and down was thrilling. I felt their power move through my feet up my legs and into my gut. 

Years later, as an adult, I was invited aboard the USS Ohio (SSBN-726 at the time, now SSBN-726/SSGN-726) the lead Ohio class nuclear-power submarine. The tour included a dive and submerged ride. Best of all they let me shoot a “water slug”

Submarines typically exercise their torpedo tubes once each week to make sure they’re operational, filling them with water and firing them. This is called “shooting water slugs.”

Welcome to Submarine 101!
Rick Campbell

Dad’s love of submarines carried over to movies. Growing up, I think we watched every submarine movie made. Now, when Turner Classic Movies (TCM) shows one, I experience the enjoyment of a great submarine movie plus the bonus memory of first watching it with dad. The last submarine movie I saw with him was, Das Boot (1981, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, in German with English subtitles). It is also my favorite. Klee and I saw it when it came out in the theater. We knew dad would love it so we took him and my mom to see it.

Submarine movies are wonderful set pieces. The inside of a sub is an excellent backdrop for telling human stories. What happens when people from many backgrounds live together for extended periods of time in claustrophobic quarters? Your dorm room? Summer camp sleeping quarters? Workspace cubicle? You may feel cramped, but your bunk isn’t crammed into the forward torpedo room with several other crew members and torpedos as roommates. You aren’t confined for two to three months (typical deployment for WWII) let alone the six to eight months of today’s nuclear sub deployments. You can get up, take a stroll outside, get a latte. Of course, submarines do surface occasionally, one can go topside and see the sky, breathe some fresh air, but there are restrictions on when and how long. 

When I visited the Ohio I wished I could share the experience with my dad. I was in awe of this vessel, but I also felt extremely cramped. I’m lucky I am not prone to claustrophobia. There was a strangely orderly clutter. I saw exercise equipment tucked in places where it seemed you’d need to be a contortionist to get on the thing to use it. I was aware of dodging, sometimes bumping into other people and things while the submariners moved effortlessly, like otters compared to my “bull in a china shop.” I thought of a line from The Thin Man Goes Home (1944, Richard Thorpe) where Nick (William Powell), Nora (Myrna Loy), and Asta  (possibly Skippy, possibly Skippy’s successor) are banished to the luggage car on an overcrowded train. They are having trouble getting though the standing room only cars and Nick advises Nora “Make like an eel mommy.” When I made a comment, several of the long-time submariners who had served in older subs chuckled. They told me they were serving and living in the lap of luxury compared to the space they had on older subs. 

Submarines are perfect environments for telling a dramatic, suspenseful story of a crew serving within the confines of a vessel submerged where close quarters, hazardous duty, the unseen enemy, limited oxygen supply, and in more recent movies nuclear reactors are constants. Add to that the enemy using depth charges, other subs using torpedoes, the damaged boat sinking beyond safe water pressure depth, or if you like, a giant squid and you have all it takes to escalate character development, tension, and suspense. Directors and cinematographers have taken great care to accurately portray submariners, the subs they live and serve on, the atmosphere, the claustrophobia, the risks. 

Sets in most submarine movies are an integral part of the story that bring to life what life is like in a confined space with constant risks. They challenge the actors who work within the confines of the set and move with the adeptness and confidence of the submariners they portray. The sets also present a challenge for cinematographers who perform tremendous feats sometimes using handheld cameras on an intentionally unsteady set. They also present challenges for set designers to create the atmosphere in which intense action takes place, to bring to the screen the realism of a boat and her crew under depth charges. For Das Boot,

A mock-up of the U-96 submarine was created for the movie to be shot in. The interior of the sub was mounted five meters off the floor. To simulate depth charge attacks the submarine set was shaken, rocked and tilted 45 degrees with a hydraulic apparatus and vigorously shaken.

War History Online
Joris Nieuwint

Here are some of my favorites that illustrate what marvelous set pieces submarine movies are (in order of release date):

Destination Tokyo (1943) has it all. It is a perfect submarine movie and it was Delmer Daves’s debut as a director. Wow. Suspense? Right from the beginning. Submarine Copperfin is launched on a secret mission. Mission orders are unsealed once Copperfin is out to sea. The mission is to acquire vital weather information for the Doolittle raid. First stop, the Aleutians to pick up a star meteorologist. Next stop, Tokyo Bay, right into the heart of the enemy. En route, they are attacked by Japanese planes resulting in an unexploded bomb lodged in the superstructure that needs to be defused. Once Copperfin reaches the waters of Japan, the captain must navigate a mine field and submarine nets. As soon as the shore party is off, one of the sailors in Copperfin develops appendicitis and the pharmacist’s mate using a book, improvised instruments, and without enough ether performs an emergency appendectomy…and then there is pumpkin pie. Mission accomplished, the sub is still in peril. Copperfin and crew need to get back out through the minefield and submarine net. Discovered by the Japanese, they suffer a tremendous barrage of depth charges. Heavy leaking. Low batteries. This movie is suspenseful from the get-go. Believability enhances the suspense. Impressive that

Destination Tokyo became a helpful tool for the United States Navy. It was so accurate in the technical details of a submarine and its crew that the Navy used the production as a training tool.

TCM Film Article, “Destination Tokyo”
Scott McGee

There is a lovely symmetry to the structure of this movie. As the Copperfin prepares to ship out on her secret mission at the beginning of the movie there is a scene of torpedos being loaded from the viewpoint of looking down through the tubes, a torpedo heads in and a sailor is there to receive it. Then Copperfin is seen leaving San Francisco Bay sailing under The Golden Gate Bridge. Near the close of the movie, while under attack from Japanese destroyers, there is a scene of  sailors loading torpedos for launch, again, viewed from within the torpedo tube. Finally Copperfin sails back into port under The Golden Gate Bridge. Wrap it up!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) directed by Richard Fleischer. Jules Verne. Really, need I say more? Encyclopaedia Brittanica credits Verne with laying the foundation for the modern Science Fiction genre. His novels delighted me as a child and still do. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World, appeared from March 1869 through June 1870. It was published as a complete novel in 1870. This formed the basis of Walt Disney’s first live-action feature filmed in the US. Walt Disney himself had been planning to do the story in the 1940s as a feature length animation. By the early 1950s he’d decided to do it as a live-action film in the Burbank studio. Production Designer Harper Goff had already done extensive work for the proposed animated version and converted that work for the live-action feature. Earl Felton’s screenplay was handed over to the Disney art department who created 

…the first live-action feature film to be storyboarded from beginning to end – the boards contained over 1300 drawings.

TCM Film Article, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
John M. Miller

Goff based his design for the Nautilus on a combination of 19th century styling and Nemo’s refined character. The underwater scenes were shot in the waters off Nassau using specialized gear created by Disney designers and engineers.

It took an underwater crew of 33 men –11 in front of the camera and 22 behind it – eight days to film this one sequence. Due to safety concerns as well as natural lighting conditions, the troupe could only remain submerged for 55 minutes at a time.

TCM Film Article, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
John M. Miller

Nemo’s Nautilus and his attacks on war ships know no country. He lost his wife due to war, he and many of his crew had been prisoners of war. Nemo now rages a war of vengeance against war and the countries engaged in it. He is also a bit of a genius and a visionary. The Nautilus is powered by electricity. When not attacking war vessels or vessels shipping supplies that can be used for war, she is engaged in scientific research and experimentation with living completely underwater. The suspense comes from within and without. War ships are making a concerted effort to locate and destroy “the monster.” Nautilus and crew also have an enemy under the sea—a giant squid who may be the end of Nemo. The biggest battle is Nemo’s private battle against his own demons. His ideals step over the line from good to maniacal, yet his crew is loyal—they had been prisoners together. 

Though based on a fictional  story, accuracy to the fiction was a big factor in the success of this movie.

Notices for the film were almost universally favorable. Variety called it “very special,” and praised the actors, but said “…it is the production itself that is the star. Technical skill was lavished in fashioning the fabulous Nautilus with its exquisitely appointed interior. The underwater lensing is remarkable on a number of counts, among them being the special designing of aqualungs and other equipment to match Verne’s own illustrations.” The Los Angeles Times noted that “as a sci-fi job, 20,000 LEAGUES is the ablest since the previous year’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS [1953].

TCM Film Article, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
John M. Miller

The structure of this film also has a nice symmetry. The opening credits run, a curtain is raised to reveal a beautifully leather-bound, embossed cover of the book. It opens to

“Chapter 1, Alarming Rumors!”

and the first paragraph

“In the year 1868 the shipping world was alarmed by rumours of an avenging monster on the loose. A series of strange events befell certain vessels cruising the great South Seas and travel along this nightmare sea lane dwindled to a few bold ships.”

This fades into a night scene on the sea of a one stacker steam ship under steam, carrying three masts, sails furled. Pan across the waters to what appear to be glowing green eyes just at the surface heading for the steamer. Classic Disney. The final shot of the film fades onto the same leather bound book, now closed. The titles run

“The End, A Walt Disney Production.”

Well as a lover of books, I think this is a beautiful way to bring a classic novel to film.

The Enemy Below (1957) directed by Dick Powell, stars Robert Mitchum (Captain Murrell) and Curd Jürgens (Commander Von Stolberg) as sparring partners during WWII. This is a top notch submarine movie and my second favorite. The Enemy Below has all the best elements of a great submarine movie, a war movie, and a movie about respect and humanity. Submarine vs. destroyer provide the framework for a suspenseful story of human beings in a time of war. There is wonderful dialog throughout this film, one scene early on between German U-boat Commander Von Stolberg and his second in command Heini, played perfectly by Theodore Bikel:

Von Stolberg: I am sick of this war…It’s a bad war. Its reason is twisted. Its purpose is dark. It’s not for a simple man.

Mitchum’s destroyer encounters Jürgens’s sub and the sparring between these well matched opponents begins. Running all through the movie, there is growing mutual respect between these two captains as they recognized each other’s skill. They understand and anticipate their opponent’s next move. Compare

Murrell: I always seem to know when there is a mind working on the other end of a radar.


Heinie: I don’t see how we could have missed at that close range.

Von Stolberg: We shouldn’t have. This American captain is no amateur. Well, neither am I.

These are men fighting for different countries, yet were it not war time, they could be friends. Mitchum is new to the ship and crew, but not (as many sailors assume) new to battle. Throughout the movie as he spars with the Jürgens, he is gaining the respect of the crew for his patience, prescience, craft, and ability. I love the way Captain Murrell commands, he lets his men make decisions, then backs them. It demonstrates trust in his crew, trains them, and instills confidence. Aboard the German U-boat it is established that captain and all but one of the crew are sailors not Nazis. But for this one Nazi officer, the crew are a team, they know their business, they trust each other and their Commander. Kunz, the Nazi, is not seasoned to the experience of being depth charged.

Kunz: He gets more accurate, Herr Kapitan. He will tear us apart the next time.

Von Stolberg: What do you suggest, Kunz?

Kunz: Surface, Herr Kapitan. Surrender.

Von Stolberg: Holem?

Von Holem: I am not concerned, Herr Kapitan.

Von Stolberg: Schwaffer?

‘Heinie’ Schwaffer: I say go on.

Von Stolberg: Mueller, what is the condition of the ship?

Mueller: We have not yet been hurt.

Kunz: But we cannot escape!

Von Stolberg: It will be your privilege to die for the new Germany.

Classic dialog. During the height of depth charging, the Commander puts a popular German song on the phonograph and they all sing, despite knowing the destroyer will pick it up. The destroyer already knows where the U-boat is. This is a clear message to the crew of the destroyer about the character and morale aboard the U-boat. 

While the sets in this film switch between sub and destroyer and long views of battle, the film still captures the intensity of close quarters in the interior scenes and gives a good account of the tension aboard both sub and destroyer.

One of my favorite things about this movie is respect. Respect of each crew for their captain and the mutual respect of warring captains for each other’s skill and talent. There is no hate, this match is an unfortunate result of wartime with a lot at stake as each fulfills his patriotic duty. A perfect submarine movie that is great story telling with plenty of suspense and a powerful ending.

Based on the novel of the same name by Commander D. A. Rayner, the film stars Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell, the newly-appointed commander of an American Destroyer in the South Atlantic, and German star Curd Jürgens as Commander Von Stolberg, a German submarine commander whose mission is imperiled when the American warship gives chase. The film offers its share of war movie action but the focus is on the battle of wits, a kind of chess game played with torpedoes and depth charges, with the two captains attempting to outwit the other by anticipating one another’s moves.

TCM Film Article, “The Enemy Below”
Sean Axmaker

I think it has the best submarine movie ending ever made.

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) directed by Robert Wise, also set during WWII. Tension and suspense come from within the submarine and from without. The second in command (Burt Lancaster), thought he was going to get command of the sub, creating immediate tension between him and the captain (Clark Gable). The captain is determined to go after the Japanese destroyer that has sunk several US submarines, including his own vessel. One problem is that destroyer hangs out in an area declared officially off limits to the US Navy. In his zeal to hunt down that destroyer, he passes up safe targets and runs constant drills. His crew thinks he is weak. As the captain gets more obsessive with drills and more single-minded about finding and sinking that destroyer, his second in command begins to seriously consider mutiny.

As they near the off limits area, training escalates to real targets using a risky bow shot. Slowly, as the crew experiences and perfects cunning maneuvers and achieve battle successes with the bow shot, the captain gains their respect. The tension throughout is heightened by concerns about the onboard oxygen supply and lots of suspenseful battle sequences. Here is another submarine movie that pays close attention to detail, and is a character study of men under pressure. It was based on a book by decorated submarine captain, Edward Latimer Beach Jr. During production of the film technicalities were checked, and much of the language was taken from Naval archives.

The producers took great pains to make everything about the story and setting authentic down to the last detail, including efforts to make the dialogue “real submarine talk,” according to Lancaster. Even the combat incidents, Lancaster insisted, were taken from Navy archives. The comedian Don Rickles, cast as a crew member, recalled that Lancaster took the technical aspects of the film very seriously, constantly asking questions about pieces of equipment and the sub’s operation. 

The official premiere of the film was held April 1, 1958, aboard the submarine USS Perch for an invited audience of senior Navy officers. Critics praised the work of director Robert Wise…Even The New York Times’s Bosley Crowther…praised the performances here and said, “A better film about war beneath the ocean and about guys in the ‘silent service’ has not been made.

TCM Film Article, “Run Silent Run Deep”
Rob Nixon

My all time favorite is Das Boot (1981) directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It is the most well-rounded, thoughtful submarine movie I’ve seen. The story is based on Lothar-Guenther Buchheim’s chronicle of his wartime experience. It is told from the perspective of German submariners on a patrol mission in WWII in U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat. It is an effective anti-war film like All Quiet On the Western Front, (1930, Lewis Milestone) a classic WWI story told from the perspective of young German soldiers. You’ll find no preaching, no propaganda, just solid story telling. Long time submariners, with younger ones, stacks of letters written to loved ones who may never receive them, the jokes shared between people who serve together and get to know a side of each other that people back home may never see. The pressure of relentless depth charges, bolts breaking loose under pressure and water rushing in. It doesn’t matter whose side these submariners are on, they may be trapped, they may never return home, they are gasping for oxygen. One of the saddest scenes in this movie is when Chief Mechanic, Johann (realistically played by Erwin Leder) uncharacteristically cracks. Johann, also called “Das Gespenst” (The Ghost), loves the engine, the boat, and is a stalwart part of the ship and the crew. This is why his cracking has such an impact. Later,

Johann: Captain, I wish to apologize.
Captain: You can’t just apologize, Johann. You left your battle station at a critical moment. Also, you disobeyed my command.
Johann: Will I be court-martialed?
Captain: How many patrols have you done?
Johann: It’s my ninth.
Captain: Why you?
Johann: It was a mistake. I didn’t… It was… It… All of a sudden… As if… It won’t ever happen again, sir. You can depend on it. I swear.
Captain: It’s all right, Johann.
Johann: No court-martial?
Captain: Get some sleep.

Johann redeems himself with his Herculean efforts to successfully stop leaks while the U-boat is stuck underwater. In his review, Roger Ebert sums up,

Francois Truffaut said it is impossible to make an anti-war film, because films tend to make war look exciting. In general, Truffaut was right. But his theory doesn’t extend to “Das Boot.”

Roger Ebert, Reviews
Roger Ebert

Cinematography in this is amazing. Jost Vacano shot Das Boot with a handheld camera in tight quarters. It is real. It is intense. I felt confined, I could almost smell the mix of oil and grease and machinery and bananas going overripe. The set is a masterpiece. The depth charge scenes are real. 

The story for Das Boot was taken from the actual experiences of photographer Lothar-Guenther Buchheim (played in the film by Herbert Gronemeyer)…In addition to the insights into submarine warfare provided in his novel, many of Buchheim’s photos of the interior of a German U-boat proved invaluable in recreating the look of life on the sub.

TCM Film Article, “Das Boot”
Felicia Feaster

Petersen had a fanatical obsession with regard to the structural detail of the U-boat set. He pointed out that “every screw” was an authentic facsimile of the type used in WWII U-boats.

To accomplish this impressive production feat he got help from numerous photographs provided by Lothar-Günther Buchheim who had taken them during U-96’s heyday during the war.

Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the actual captain of the real life U-96 and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as consultants for the production of the film.

War History Online
Joris Nieuwint

There are a couple versions of Das Boot out there, I recommend the longer Director’s Cut, and definitely German with English subtitles over the dubbed version.

The Abyss (1989) directed by James Cameron is one I almost missed including. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of a “submarine movie” until I read Shilavadra Bhattacharjee’s “Top 10 Submarine Movies—How Many Have You Actually Seen?” on Marine Insights. Shilavadra includes this movie, “Of COURSE!” It is a submarine movie full of suspense, drama, complex characters that react, change, grow or fall apart in confined spaces, at depth. All this enhanced by the wonderful cinematography of Danish cinematographer Mikael Salomon.

The movie begins in pure classic submarine movie fashion, deep blue screen, title, “ping…ping…ping…” This pulls us inside the submarine directly to the sonar man. Something is approaching faster than any known underwater vessel is capable of. The signature is not Russian, not U.S. The submarine was already navigating in a tight underwater trench, there is a collision leading to a series of collisions each doing more damage than the first, the submarine sinks deeper and deeper. One “miss” for me is that the captain does not behave in the manner we expect from someone who has reached his position, he even exclaims something like, “We’ve lost her!” The Ohio class sub, complete with Trident Missile warhead is in serious trouble, in depths that require specialized equipment for any rescue attempt, there are Russians on their way to “salvage” the sub, and a hurricane fast approaching. 

A SEAL team is sent to an experimental deep water drilling rig, Deep Core, which is not far from the submarine. The designer of the rig (Dr. Lindsey Brigman, well played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) insists on coming along too. She is the estranged wife of the drilling crew foreman (Virgil “Bud” Brigman, played by Ed Harris—perfect casting). They use a special submersible to board the rig and now we have a complex mix of a brilliant engineer, Navy Seals, and oil men all in a confined space racing the clock and encountering something they’ve never seen before, “non-terrestrial intelligence” or “NTI.” In addition, the SEAL team lead, Lieutenant Coffey (another bit of good casting here with Michael Biehn) is already showing signs of paranoia brought on by “high-pressure nervous syndrome.” In early scenes he sees the signs himself, but my guess is he believes he can tough it out. Lindsey sees a wondrous life form new to us, Coffey sees Russians. Enter Hurricane Fredrick. It is crucial that Deep Core unhook from the Benthic Explorer up top, but Coffey commandeers the rig they need to use to do this in order to send a robot, Little Geek, with a warhead to blow up the destroyed submarine to keep it out of Russian hands. There are some amazing diving scenes of at depth free diving for short distances (out of necessity) and diving using liquid breathing where the lungs are filled with liquid (perfluorocarbon—PFC). 

There is a love story here, a story of other intelligent life forms that give us a warning, a chance, and hope, there is a story of friendship and resilience under pressure, literal and figurative. An oil rig crew that is totally believable as an oil rig crew, who also have all the right skills for diving and surviving at depth. 

In the end, the aliens give us a warning, and save us to mend our ways. I’m reminded of a favorite science fiction movie of mine, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951, directed by Robert Wise, where aliens come to warn the world to mend our ways or answer to the galactic police. 

Evidently this movie, though hugely popular with movie audiences, was panned by critics from The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today

The Atlantic, “25 Years in the Abyss”
Daviel D. Snyder

The criticisms? Too positive. Too overtly anti-war, aliens saving humanity (I guess they are all supposed to be destroyers), too much hope and love? Well, too much positivity? Bring it on!

I have to mention The Hunt for Red October (1990) John McTiernan. It is a good suspenseful story—no surprise given it was based on Tom Clancy’s book of the same name. The movie well illustrates how the set contributes to the suspense. OK, I confess, part of its draw for me? Sean Connery. Let me relay a little conversation I overheard in line at the grocery story several years ago. A young couple were discussing which movie they were going to see that weekend. I don’t remember the title of the movie the young woman wanted to see, but her husband’s comment was “I heard that movie sucks.” There was a heavy pause, his wife looked him in the eye—stink-eye might describe her expression, “No movie with Sean Connery in it sucks.” Well, she may have a point there. Seriously, though Sean Connery or no, this is one for the re-watch list. There is plenty of suspense, kudos to the director for not slapping the audience in the face with all the answers, we are often as in the dark as the characters.

The production design lends a lot to the movie’s credibility. Here is a long quote, but Roger Ebert says it so well, why paraphrase?

I’m told that the interiors of submarines in this movie look a good deal more high-tech and glossy than they do in real life – that there would be more grease around on a real sub – and yet, for the movie screen, these subs look properly impressive, with their awesome displays of electronic gadgetry. The movie does not do as good a job of communicating the daily and hourly reality of submarine life as “Das Boot” did, but perhaps that’s because we are never trapped and claustrophobic inside a sub for the whole movie. There are cutaways to the White House and CIA headquarters in Langley, to the Kremlin and to the decks of ships at sea.

“The Hunt for Red October” is a skillful, efficient film that involves us in the clever and deceptive game being played by Ramius and in the best efforts of those on both sides to figure out what he plans to do with his submarine – and how he plans to do it. The movie is constructed so we can figure that out along with everybody else, and that leaves a lot of surprises for the conclusion, which is quite satisfactorily suspenseful.

Roger Ebert Review, “The Hunt for Red October
Roger Ebert

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is the name and inauspicious nick name of a Russian nuclear sub. It was one of the first of the Project 658 class of nuclear subs equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles. The movie is based on events that happened during the Cold War. The tension here lies wholly with the sub and her crew. The sub is on its first mission in spite of the original captain proclaiming her not ready. There are some parallels between this movie and Run Silent, Run Deep. The first being the tension between the captains and their second in command. While in Run Silent, Run Deep, the tension is there from the outset, in K-19, the tension builds during the mission. Another parallel is the amount of drilling the captain in charge puts the sub and the men through. It is the nature and relentlessness of these drills that strains the tension between captain and second in command and extends through the crew. In both films there is talk of taking command from the captain. In K-19, two men follow through but are thwarted by the second in command who is beginning to respect and maybe understand the captain. 

Being put through a rigorous dive test, rivets start popping and the hull creaks—all good submarine fare. An even bigger threat is the core of the nuclear reactor, which overheats. She is being followed by a US destroyer. Will the reactor blow? If it does, will the captain of the destroyer believe he is under attack? Will this spark nuclear combat? Crew members need to enter the reactor chamber for makeshift repairs but alas, there were no nuclear protection suits available so the ship had sailed with inadequate chemical suits. I have to admit, the scenes involving the radiation victims were so effective that the first time I saw this movie I began to feel quite unwell. A time or two I had to avert my eyes. I attribute this to the filmmakers and actors, and also a little bit to my sometimes overactive imagination. The second time I saw it, I did not feel physically sick, rather, I was deeply saddened and teared up. This is a well crafted, suspenseful submarine story that tells a difficult, sad, tragic story.

Finally, there is a mystery movie. I remember seeing it, and I’ve wanted to see it again and share it with Klee but I cannot remember the name of it, nor have I found it after copious searching in the many lists out there of submarine movies. In my memory, it is a British sub. It is sunk. The entire movie could easily be a stage play as the bulk of the story takes place as the sub sits on the ocean floor. There is little hope for rescue before air runs out and the officers and crew write their final letters. That’s it. There is no heavy action after the sinking, but a lot of the human drama. The men and their letters created a lovely human story, a look at what is important to each of the men. In my memory the commander was played by James Mason, but I’ve looked at the list of all his movies and have yet to find it. If you know it, please clue me in! 

These are my favorites, check out “More Great Submarine Movies”, my addendum to this post for more.

Here are some pretty comprehensive lists of submarine movies of all types:

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