“Crash Dive” is a mid-WWII sub movie directed by Archie Mayo (his only war movie). It starred Tyrone Power who had enlisted in the Marine Corps. His trip to boot camp was delayed so he could finish the film. He did not make another movie until 1946. The sacrifices women had to make for the war effort! Power would eventually retire as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserve. The movie had the full cooperation of the Pentagon which hoped for a recruiting boost from it. Mayo was allowed to film at New London Submarine Base, but no newer subs were allowed to appear on film. The film was made in technicolor, which indicates its importance as far as the studio was concerned.
The movie raises a red flag immediately when it plops a PT boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Lt. Stuart (Power) picks up survivors of a u-boat sinking, spots the u-boat, and sinks it with depth charges. None of those things happened in the Atlantic during the entire war. Stuart is a huge fan of PT boats. If he could, he would marry one. However, his admiral uncle persuades him (for the good of recruitment) to join the silent service. He is sent to New London, Connecticut and assigned exec to Lt. Commander Dewey Connors (Dana Andrews). While on leave he puts the moves on a teacher named Jean (Anne Baxter) who is taking some girls on a field trip to Washington. At first, Jean is turned off by the wolfish Stuart, but he persists in a predatory way. He is so successful that the school marm goes out on the town with him, leaving the girls alone in a hotel room. Then she guiltily rushes home, thus ending the girls’ trip early. Did I mention she is engaged to Connors? That’s right, she’s a slutty school teacher. Stuart may be a sexual predator, but at least he does not know that Jean is engaged to his CO.
The USS Corsair (with black mess mate on board) goes on patrol in the Atlantic. Apparently it is the entire Atlantic sub fleet as every other boat should be in the Pacific. They encounter a Swedish freighter, but it opens fire. It’s a Q-ship! Those dastardly Nazis. Luckily, the Q-ship is a terrible shot and cannot hit a stationary sub before it crash dives. Instead of putting a torpedo in the helpless ship, Connors hides on the bottom. He uses the classic expelling debris trickery to escape. He and Stuart bond through the depth charge experience. They are best friends when they return to base for a binge of fruits, vegetables, and milk! This all becomes awkward when they found out that they have something in common – Jean. She’s in love with Stuart by now, for plot purposes. The command dysfunction cliché kicks in just in time for their special mission to destroy the Q-ship base. If you think the love triangle is ridiculous, wait for one of the most ludicrous commando raids in sub movie history. Try to stick around for Stuart’s paean to every type of ship in the US Navy. Young men, I may love PT-boats and submarines, but there are other options. Buy war bonds!
“Crash Dive” is a propaganda and patriotic soufflé. It is very fluffy and looks good in its glorious technicolor, but it is not very filling. In fact, the technicolor is the only thing that stands out. Everything else is second-rate. The script could hardly have been worse. It attaches the dusty love triangle to unbelievable sub action. It does reinvent the love triangle a bit by having the female be the weak leg and having all three legs intact at the end. I do not think the screenwriters (and most of the audience) bothered to consider that Jean betrays Connors for a man that manipulated her and she falls in love with that guy. But he’s Tyrone Power, so it’s okay. Even Connors accepts that fact. With the love triangle sucking the air out of the movie, there is no room for depiction of sailor life. The film does develop an interesting relationship between the black steward and the crusty Chief. And it gives the steward some action. This for a 1943 movie. Kudos! The acting is not a detriment. Power, Baxter, and Andrews are solid, although Power is forced to give that gag-inducing speech at the end.
“Crash Dive” is in the “one Oscar club” of sub movies along with “The Enemy Below”, “Torpedo Run”, “U-571”, and “Hunt for Red October”. In this case the award was for Best Visual Effects and maybe they were awesome in 1943, but they are underawesome today. The Q-ship base set is particularly fake-looking. And the raid on that base is so full of pyrotechnics and expenditure of ammo that you would swear you were watching a John Woo film. A bad John Woo film. The fire and explosions build to one of the most laughable scenes in sub movie history as Connors pilots the semi-submerged sub past a shore battery. Try not to chortle. And try not to believe that anything in the movie is historically accurate. The movie insults my intelligence. Why place PT-boats and subs in the Atlantic? I can understand putting the smoochy stuff in New London, but all oceans look alike so why isn’t the Corsair in the Pacific with its brethren? The Germans had Q-ships, but so did the Japanese and the idea of an island base in the Atlantic is crazy. I can only assume the studio felt the public wanted roasted Nazis more than dead Japs in 1943.