Friday, April 15, 2011

Run Silent, Run Deep

I'm dealing with this little sinus problem these days so I was up late last night with a suicidal headache. Since it was about two in the morning and sleep didn't seem to be anywhere in sight, I decided to watch an old film I hadn't seen in ages...Run Silent, Run Deep. In fact, I'm not altogether sure I've ever seen the film in it's entirety.

It's from 1958 and directed by the pedestrian Robert Wise but it's a tremendously underrated picture. Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster at their Gable-ist and Lancaster-ist. Apparently the two men didn't get along at all during filming. Gable was past his leading man prime and Lancaster was smack in the middle of his.

In supporting roles one can spot a young Don Rickles and Jack Warden (Warden is at the center of one of my favorite stories I heard from my buddy and veteran actor, Ron McLarty. Apparently he auditioned for John Houseman's 'King Lear' in New York in the late forties. He had virtually no credits yet and had never done Shakespeare. After doing a monologue, badly, Houseman asked him, very properly, "Uh, Mr. Uh, Warden. What role did you have in mind?" According to Ron, Warden answered the great Houseman, "Well, shit, who's doing Lear?"). But it is Gable who is interesting to watch in this one. Gable, much like John Wayne, sort of learned to act right in front of us, starting out mannered and clunky in the thirties and eventually, through sheer trial and error, ending up being pretty damn good by the end of his career.

His work in 'Run Silent, Run Deep' is good stuff. He's subtle and explosive. Charming and slightly Ahab-esque at times. The script, as one might expect, is a bit transparent at times, but Gable and Lancaster rise above it for the most part. Lancaster was not only one of the two male leads, but also produced the movie through his fledgling company. He, too, wooden and predictable early in his career, eventually turned into a very fine film actor, indeed. If you haven't seen it, check out Lancaster in a rarely-heard-from film called 'Go Tell the Spartans' in the mid-seventies. It's a brilliant little film about Vietnam (one of the first anti-Vietnam movies) and Lancaster is extraordinary in it.

But again, it is the sagging, defeated, aging Gable who is the one to watch in 'Run Silent, Run Deep.' This was 1958 and he was to give one more great performance in Arthur Miller's 'The Misfits' before dying of a massive heart attack a few years later.

I've always loved submarine movies. 'Das Boot' being my favorite of all time. And this one is one of the grandpappies of that genre. There's a claustrophobic feel throughout. Submarines lend themselves nicely to drama because of the close, confined camera shots. This film is done in black and white, too, which lends to the cramped feeling in the film.

In any event, I enjoyed the film far more than I suspected I would, considering it was three in the morning and my head felt like it very well might explode at any given time. Plus there's something about watching an old movie in the middle of the night, laying on the couch, lights out like a mini-movie theatre, that is simply comforting.

See you tomorrow.

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