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While on routine patrol for NATO the USS Bedford locates a nuclear-armed Russian sub as it prowls around the icy coast of Greenland. Captain Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark), a fierce disciplinarian and staunch patriot is itching for a confrontation with the sub but is thwarted by Naval command. With Cold War tensions at fever pitch, Finlander continues to pursue the sub and bristles when a nosey reporter (Sidney Poitier) is air-lifted on board as part of a PR exercise. The reporter observes first hand that Finlander is engaged in a taunting cat and mouse strategy with the sub and that the Bedford's overworked crew is on edge and verging on a breakdown which could prove catastrophic for world peace.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Nobody wanted to know about the serious side of the Cold War after Stanley Kubrick's brilliantly caustic black comedy, Dr Strangelove, blew all-comers out of the water when it surfaced in 1964. With the U.S. then fully occupied with hostilities in Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis of two years before was but a faded memory and once Slim Pickens comically cowboyed Kubrick's H-bomb to the ground the threat of a holocaust seemed somehow less real. Audiences were therefore in no mood for a film that rekindled fears of catastrophe if ever nuclear weapons should fall into nervous hands.

Richard Widmark is Captain Eric Finlander, a cold-eyed martinet who runs a ship so tight that men quake in his wake. Finlander is engaged in relentless pursuit of a nuclear-armed Russian sub as it lurks about the coast of Greenland. Its mother ship dumps a trail of rubbish that is eagerly gathered by Finlander as he zig-zags the Bedford between the ice-floes. By analysing the discarded food scraps and potato peels, the ship's scientists are able to pinpoint how long the waste has been in the water and confirm that the Captain is hot on "Big Red's" tail.

But Finlander has no time for the distractions of a nosey photo-journalist and a veteran Naval doctor when against his wishes they are air-lifted on board. Finlander obsesses about being misquoted by the reporter and obstructs his every move and is so determined to keep the Sick Bay free of "hypos and malingerers" that he shuns the hapless medico completely. He is particularly harsh on a promising young Ensign (James MacArthur) who lives in mortal fear of the CO and becomes increasingly jittery with every beep of the ship's sub-seeking sonar.

Producer Widmark was always more convincing playing hard-edged characters with a cold heart. He was Oscar nominated on debut as the cackling killer in Kiss Of Death (1947) and never given the nod again, but his work here is of Oscar quality: strident, confident and barely concealing a smirk when informing his first officer that "it's a lot of work being a mean bastard." In his first role in which no reference is made to his colour, the softly-spoken Poitier is an adequate foil but his character is perhaps too passive, underwritten and overwhelmed by the strength of Widmark. Still, one must thank heavens for small mercies. If this riveting, apparently timeless and much underrated film was remade today (it virtually was in 1995 as Crimson Tide) we would probably have to endure Julia Roberts in the role!

Harris, who produced three films for Kubrick and was clearly inspired by Strangelove, keeps the tension on a knife's edge as the viewer awaits captain, crew or that Russian sub, which is hunted and hounded to the polar ice-packs, to crack. One of the great subtleties is that although there's the glimpse of a timid periscope poking from the sea like a snorkel gasping for air, the "enemy" is otherwise unseen. If the crew of the Bedford are twitchy up above, we can imagine the tension in the tin can down below. Big Red really has to come up for a breather, only to face a captain breathing fire, waiting for "the rat to come out of its hole." The world is oblivious but flashpoint is imminent.

Published August 4, 2005

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(UK/US, 1965)

CAST: Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, James MacArthur

DIRECTOR: James B. Harris

SCRIPT: James Poe

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish

SPECIAL FEATURES: Original Movie Trailer, vintage advertising gallery, video photo montage, talent profiles.


DVD RELEASE: July 13, 2005

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