Judge Erick Harper secretly wishes he had made up the name "Q-Boat" himself.
As far as I'm concerned, a submarine is no life for a dog—even a sea dog. I'd much rather sink 'em than sail 'em any day.
Tyrone Power's winning charisma, some clever action sequences, and Oscar-winning special effects help Crash Dive rise above the run of the mill submarine thriller and overcome a romantic subplot that could have been deadlier than any depth charge.
Facts of the Case
Lt. Ward Stewart (Power, The Mark of Zorro, The Sun Also Rises) is the successful commander of a PT boat operating in the Atlantic. When duty and the Navy's personnel needs require him to be reassigned to submarine duty, he's not happy about it. He's already done two years in submarines, and has no desire to go back. Orders are orders, though, and he finds himself assigned as Executive Officer of the USS Corsair.
The captain of the Corsair, Lt. Commander Dewey Connors (Dana Andrews, Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives) at first doesn't think much of his new pretty-boy exec and his predilection for singing the praises of PT boats at every opportunity. After a while, however, the two become fast friends, even sharing an apartment together at the submarine base in New London, Connecticut.
The crew of the Corsair become involved in a dangerous mission when they discover a German "Q-boat," which appears to be a neutral Swedish-flagged freighter, but which really carries concealed armaments for doing battle against US subs. They track the Q-boat to a secret island base where the Germans have constructed a supply and ammunition dump.
While back on shore, Dewey prepares to propose to his long-time sweetheart, Jean Hewlett (Anne Baxter, The Magnificent Ambersons, All About Eve). The only problem is that she has secretly been seeing Ward ever since he was assigned to the Corsair. Ward is stunned and apologetic that he has been dating his captain and friend's sweetheart, but Connors will hear none of it. The working relationship between the skipper and the XO becomes a bit chilly, to say the least.
The problems of three little people really don't amount to a hill of beans when there's a war on, and so the Corsair is ordered back to the mysterious island to execute a daring commando raid against the German installation, leading to the gripping climax of the movie.
Released in 1943, Crash Dive is an example of the patriotic filmmaking that was Hollywood's contribution to the war effort. It was made with the full cooperation of the Department of the Navy, which granted filmmakers access to such key locations as the sub base at New London. Films like this one were made to give the public a positive, encouraging vision of the war in an effort to boost morale on the home front. Our boys are seen as unfailingly good and decent, the Germans are seen as unfailingly villainous, and the good guys always win in the end.
Tyrone Power and Dana Andrews are precisely the right sort of actors for such a Technicolor recruiting poster. Power is a bit flamboyant and a bit mischievous, but deep down he's just a good all-American boy. Andrews is all stability and strength, a bit less flashy and outgoing than Power, but the very picture of resolute dependability. Anne Baxter—well, suffice it to say that it is easy to see why these two men would fall in love with her, even in the midst of war's trials and tribulations.
The supporting cast on the submarine is top-notch as well. I was particularly tickled to see a young Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H, Dragnet) as a junior officer on board the Corsair. James Gleason (Puttin' on the Ritz) gives a great performance as the aging Chief whose health is beginning to interfere with his duties. Perhaps the most interesting character and actor is Ben Carter as Oliver, the ship's cook. In most movies of the period, as in the real Navy, African-Americans were relegated to token roles. The role of Oliver is in fact one of those "token Negro" parts, but his part is much larger than most such roles would be. Oliver is a sympathetic character who provides quiet support for Gleason's character after learning of his health problems. He even gets to go along on the commando raid at the climax of the film, and shows himself to be the equal of the rest of the crew in bravery. It's still not a great role by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly beats the wide-eyed semi-literate comic relief parts assigned to most actors of color in Hollywood in the 1940s.
As noted earlier, Crash Dive was shot in glorious Technicolor. The DVD transfer maintains the comic-bookishly brilliant colors quite well, but the overall picture quality is disappointing. Most of the flaws seem to come from defects in the source print. The image shows some notable flickering and jumping at times, often in shots with a lot of blue sky. There are spots where the picture either goes yellow or blanches a bit. Overall the image seems to be too dark, with shadowed areas tending to blend into a mass of inky blackness. On the other hand, some scenes are remarkable for their lifelike clarity and sharpness of detail. The flaws that exist are notable, but not enough to seriously hamper the pleasure of watching the film.
There are two audio options: a more or less original mono track, and a stereo mix. The two don't really sound all that different. The stereo track is a little fuller and livelier, but is subject to blaring and distortion from time to time, as well as some artificial-sounding echo. The mono track avoids these problems, but tends to sound a bit congested. Of the two, the stereo track is probably the better-sounding option.
This disc is part of the Fox War Classics line. Unfortunately, unlike some DVDs in this collection, we don't get any Fox Movietone newsreels or any other nifty goodies. Special features on this release are limited to a theatrical trailer and a collection of Fox trailers for The Hunters, Morituri, and What Price Glory.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One difficulty in a movie of this kind, as illustrated by Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor sixty years later, is the need to balance the action plot and the romantic plot very carefully. Crash Dive probably leans a bit too heavily to the romantic side, playing rom-com games between Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter for a major chunk of the picture's running time. Making matters worse, their relationship and the resulting tension between Power and Andrews is just a little too contrived and a little too coincidental; of all the girls in all the world, Lt. Stewart just happens to pick up his CO's fiancée. The movie spends too much time on shore and away from the submarine for my tastes, but it's not bad enough to be a fatal flaw. On the other hand, the action scenes, when we do finally get to them, are quite well done and satisfying, and make up for the time it takes to get there.
Some of the action could be seen as hewing just a little too closely to established submarine flick conventions. For example, there is the time-worn tactic of actually landing the ship on the bottom of the ocean to evade detection. There is also the old "oil slick and garbage" routine to make the enemy think they've succeeded in sinking the sub. Finally, while submarines were often used to transport troops and deposit commandos in inaccessible locations, it seems a bit of a stretch to have such an assault team made up strictly of volunteers from the ship's own crew. To my mind, however, Crash Dive can be forgiven for these clichés; at the time this film was made, such touches had not become clichés yet. Besides, the action sequences are skillfully directed and executed, making them every bit as exciting today as they were for audiences in 1943.
As a minor historical note, I could find no evidence that the Germans used Q-boats during World War II. On the contrary, they were an American/British ruse intended to lull U-boat commanders into a false sense of security, get them to surface, and then blast away with their concealed armaments. I could not find any information on German attempts to use such ships to fool American subs, as is shown here, although there are recorded instances of the Japanese using such vessels in the Pacific theater.
Not guilty! Crash Dive is an entertaining, nicely done bit of entertainment, with just the faintest whiff of homefront propaganda.
We stand adjourned.
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