The British film MORNING DEPARTURE is the compelling story of a submarine disaster which takes place a few years after WWII.
The film, shown in the U.S. as OPERATION DISASTER, tells the story of the HMS Trojan, which is seriously damaged when it sails too close to an electronically activated mine left over from the war years. Part of the submarine is destroyed, and it sinks to the ocean floor. Enough equipment survives the blast for some of the crew to escape and make it safely to the surface, but four men must remain on board hoping for rescue.
The four men are the submarine's captain (John Mills), his first officer (Nigel Patrick), and two seamen (Richard Attenborough and James Hayter). As the men cope with various crises while the rescue operation unfolds, their relationships deepen and their true characters reveal themselves.
Meanwhile, above the ocean surface Commander Gates (Bernard Lee, in a fine performance) supervises the attempted rescue, which is threatened by bad weather.
The script by W. E. Fairchild was based on a play by Kenneth Woollard but does not feel theatrical in the least. Indeed, although much of this 97-minute film takes place in a confined area aboard the sub, it's almost difficult to imagine how a story with so much action was done on the stage.
It's a tough film with well-delineated, memorable characters. I have to say I totally did not see the end coming, and it raised a big logistical question for me, but I'll say no more on that topic here.
Mills is really excellent, as his day begins like any other, pulled out of bed too early by a crying baby and the need to get ready for work. (When his wife asks why the submarine exercises must begin so early, he jokes "It impresses the taxpayers!") He tells his wife he'll see her by teatime and goes off to a seemingly ordinary day aboard his sub.
He soon proves why he's the captain, dealing authoritatively with ever-deepening problems with both the submarine and the crew. He's a compassionate man but he's also very much in charge.
Meanwhile Attenborough's anxious young seaman, who shows signs of breaking down under the pressures, has the chance to redeem himself as Patrick's smooth "No. 1" begins to suffer physically. Seaman Higgins (Hayter) stays calm throughout and takes great pleasure in the simple things, such as being allowed to drink port in the officer's wardroom.
MORNING DEPARTURE was directed by Roy Baker, who passed on in 2010. His next films after MORNING DEPARTURE were the thriller HIGHLY DANGEROUS (1950) with Dane Clark and Margaret Lockwood and the excellent time travel fantasy I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951) with Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth.
MORNING DEPARTURE is available on DVD from VCI.