Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Frogmen (1951)

It seems appropriate that the first film seen this Memorial Day Weekend celebrates the U.S. Navy. THE FROGMEN, a well-made and often exciting movie about an underwater demolition team during World War II, stars two of my favorite actors, Richard Widmark and Dana Andrews.

Widmark plays Lt. Cmdr. John Lawrence, who finds it rough going when he's assigned to replace a respected officer killed at Iwo Jima. The men, including Chief Jake Flannigan (Andrews) and Flannigan's buddy "Pappy" Creighton (Jeffrey Hunter), don't care for Lawrence's "by the book" attitude. After a series of incidents, including Lawrence disarming a live torpedo, Lawrence and the men earn each other's respect.

This was a very well-done film with several outstanding sequences. It was fascinating watching the precision with which the "frogmen" entered the water on their missions -- sometimes without any sort of wetsuits -- and then were picked up by grabbing a looped rope as their boat passed the line of swimmers at a fairly fast rate of speed. These scenes are good movie-making which also give one great appreciation for those who actually did such dangerous jobs.

Another great set piece has Jeffrey Hunter's character trapped in sick bay with a live torpedo while water rushes in. There's excellent byplay between Widmark and Andrews in this nail-biting scene. Watching Widmark's character working on the torpedo called to mind one of my favorite old British TV series about WWII, DANGER UXB.

This film also underscores the impact a tragic scene can have without modern-day filmmakers' reliance on blood and gore. A boat full of men simply vanishing due to a direct hit was stunning and dramatic.

As one might expect, Widmark and Andrews are excellent as two talented, edgy men with tough jobs. They both mean well but don't always make the best choices, particularly Andrews' character, whose desire to pull a wartime prank on the Marines leads to his best friend being seriously injured.

Widmark and Andrews are well supported by Gary Merrill as Lt. Cmdr. Pete Vincent, the ship's commander who befriends Lawrence as he deals with the men in his new command. I like Merrill quite a bit and thought he did a good job as Lawrence's pipe-smoking sounding board.

Harvey Lembeck and Jack Warden have supporting roles. Robert Wagner is listed in the cast, but I had a hard time finding him!

THE FROGMEN was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by Norbert Brodine. Brodine was nominated for the Academy Award along with Oscar Millard, a nominee for Best Original Story. The film runs 96 minutes.

THE FROGMEN is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. The sole extras are 3 trailers.


Blogger DKoren said...

This is one I really like, for all the reasons you mention. I love the clash between Andrews and Widmark, and the underwater and boat footage is very cool.

You've reminded me also that I have not re-watched this one in a long time now! It's overdue.

1:22 PM  

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