Monday, July 24, 2017


                It’s time for my annual subgenre tournament.  This year I have decided to do submarine movies.  I found it difficult to pick sixteen movies that fit my criteria and were available for viewing.  The main qualification was  the movie had to have some combat in it.  This eliminated movies like “Gray Lady Down”, for instance.  I came up with an interesting mix of mostly WWII movies with a wide range of quality.  For the seeding I went with the general critical consensus on the films, not the views of war movie experts or my own opinions.  As with all the other tournaments, the format is that of a basketball tournament with four quarters in each matchup and a total of twelve categories in reaching the finals.  Here are the matchups:

1 -  Das Boot
16 -  The Enemy Below

8 -  Destination Tokyo
9 -  Hell and High Water

4 -  Crimson Tide
13 -  Torpedo Run

5 -  U-571
12 -  Above Us the Waves

2 -  Run Silent, Run Deep
15 -  Hellcats of the Navy

7 -  Crash Dive
10 -  Operation Pacific

3 -  The Hunt for Red October
14 -  Submarine Command

6 -  We Dive at Dawn
11 -  Up Periscope

                Although I had seen and reviewed most of the sixteen before, I did watch them all for this tournament.  That was quite a chore in some cases.  However, the few that I had not seen were entertaining and worth the effort.  I hope this tournament may cause others to view some of the forgotten gems in this competition and avoid some pretty bad movies.  So here goes.  Good luck and good hunting!

#8  Destination Tokyo vs.  #9 Above Us the Waves


PLOT:  “Destination Tokyo” was released in 1943 so it has a heavy dose of patriotism and propaganda.  The USS Copperfin (commanded by Cary Grant) is sent on a special mission to penetrate Tokyo Bay and land a commando team that will facilitate the Doolittle Raid.  After that, their reward will be a shot at a Japanese aircraft carrier.  The plot was actually nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but that must have been a fit of patriotism because this is an average sub movie which lacks realism and suspense.  It was right for its time, but does not hold up well.  GRADE  =  C

“Above Us the Waves” is a British film that was released in 1955.  It is the story of the operation to sink the German battleship Tirpitz at its anchorage.  The original attempt is by way of human torpedoes and then by way of midget subs.  The movie covers the training and the two missions but concentrates on the final one.  We follow the three midgets as they sneak up to their target.  It does an admirable job chronicling the event and is suspenseful and realistic.  GRADE  =  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Destination Tokyo  =  6
                                             Above Us the Waves  =  8

ACTING:  “Destination Tokyo” has the inestimable Gary Grant as the Captain Cassidy.  He underplays a bit, but his character is iconic.  The rest of the cast is fine.  Alan Hale, Sr. is on board for comic relief.  John Garfield plays the stereotypical wolf with some 1940s verve.  He is one of the better ladies’ men that appear often in this subgenre.  Overall, the acting is appropriate for a movie of this era.  GRADE  =  B

“Above Us the Waves” has John Mills as its lead, of course.  (It is, after all, a British war movie.)  The rest of the cast is equally British.  It’s a good group and they are up to the very claustrophobic setting.  GRADE  =  A

HALFTIME SCORE:  Destination Tokyo  =  14
                                   Above Us the Waves  =  17

TACTICS:  For a movie that was supposedly used as a training film by the US Navy, there is surprisingly little that deals with submarine tactics in “Destination Tokyo”.  In the attack on the aircraft carrier, Capt. Cassidy fires four torpedoes from the bow tubes.  He then passes under the warship and fires the four stern tubes.  That would have been highly unlikely.  The sub survives a typically accurate cinematic depth charging and then sinks the offending Japanese destroyer with a bow shot.  GRADE  =  C

“Above Us the Waves” is not a typical submarine movie.  The midget subs do not fire torpedoes.  Their tactic was to sneak up on the target and drop explosive devices under the keel.  The movie accurately depicts the tactics.  GRADE  =  A

THIRD QUARTER:  Destination Tokyo  =  20
                                  Above Us the Waves  =  26

CLICHES:  “Destination Tokyo” is considered the “granddaddy of American submarine movies" and it established several of the clichés associated with the subgenre.  The Copperfin is sent on a special mission.  Cassidy has to disarm an unexploded bomb and assist in an appendectomy.  They follow a Japanese warship through a net.  The sub lands a commando group to report on the weather.  The crew listens to Tokyo Rose.  The sub undergoes a depth charging that results in leaks and rivets blowing.  They sink a Japanese destroyer using a head-on shot.   GRADE  =  A   (because it created the clichés)

“Above Us the Waves” is as atypical as “Destination Tokyo” is standard.  It does cover a special mission.  They do go through a submarine net and also under a torpedo net.  It is one of the least clicheish submarine movies.  GRADE  =  B  (it would be unfair to give it an A because it the plot is not set up like a normal sub movie)

FINAL SCORE:  Destination Tokyo  =  29
                           Above Us the Waves  =  34

ANALYSIS:  “Destination Tokyo” is one of the iconic submarine movies.  It was a big hit and is still remembered fondly.  This is in large part due to Cary Grant.  Its flaws are partly due to the time it was made.  Being produced in the middle of the war meant that it was required to wave the flag and demonize the foe.  Some of the dialogue is hard to sit through.  It is not only full of speeches, but also sermons.  It can be forgiven for being loaded with clichés because it was early in the game so they were fresh back then.  That does not excuse the ridiculous script developments that would have pleased a 1943 audience and still please modern viewers, but cause war movie lovers to cringe and pull their hair.

                “Above Us the Waves” is a gem that is not well known in America.  While “Destination Tokyo” is almost total bull crap wrapped around the Doolittle Raid, “Waves” is an almost documentary on Operation Source.  The event is recreated in a no frills way, but this does not negate suspense.  It is certainly the best movie about midget submarines.   

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