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Most of the comments about this very ordinary war film concerns the
fact that it is the only film that co-starred Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Both of them did better work in Hollywood.
The real story is that Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, CINCPAC Pacific Theatre in World War II chose to make a personal appearance in this film about submarines. That's like having Eisenhower or MacArthur make a personal appearance in an army war film. Unheard of.
Nimitz's background was in submarines and our submarine fleet may very well have been the tipping factor in the Pacific War. We did to Japan what the Nazis tried to do to Great Britain, cut off their raw material and food. Nimitz was no hypocrite however. He admitted as much during the Nuremberg trials and that fact saved the Nazi U-Boat commander Karl Doenitz from the hangman for war crimes.
All the clichés about submarine warfare in the pre-atomic era are present in this film. It's a B Picture made just as B Pictures were being phased out of existence. The cast is competent enough, but it's all been done before.
I think the real story is why did Admiral Nimitz choose this submarine film to make an appearance in.
This film is primarily for Ronald Reagan buffs or for those who want to see Ron and Nancy on screen together. The story centers around an initially unstable relationship between a submarine commander, a nurse, another officer showing interest in her and an executive officer who questions the motives of the commander, both personally and militarily. Is it one of the 'great' WWII submarine movies? No. Is it worth a look? Yes. It doesn't contain the depth or intensity of Cary Grant's "Destination Tokyo" or Clark Gable's "Run Silent, Run Deep," but could be considered comparable to Glenn Ford's "Torpedo Run."
You have to feel sorry for anybody who tries to write the screenplay
for a submarine movie. How is it possible to avoid all the established
clichés? The shattered chronometer, the bursting pipe, the ritual
commands, the toy submarine nosing through the murk, the wounded
skipper lying on the deck and ordering the boat down, the periscope
slicing the sea, the tin can approaching at high speed, the pinging
sonar gear, the tense sweaty faces, the walloped camera as the depth
charge explodes, the conflict between the CO and the Exec, the playful
bantering of the crew, a down-the-throat shot.
Added to that are the problems that any Navy movie has. The men have no chance at individual heroism and practically none of being dramatically wounded. (Unless one of them gets appendicitis or has a torpedo fall on him, which happens from time to time.) Basically, the crew are there for comic purposes, so the burden of the drama must fall on the officers. The question can never be about who is going to rush out with his tommy gun and save the rest of the patrol, so it can only be about whose judgment is correct, the skipper or one of his officers. (Sometimes a romantic conflict on the beach is thrown in, but that's rather arbitrary, kind of like the appendicitis patient.) This one isn't too bad, as sub movies go, but it arrives late in the post-war genre. Nobody in it is weak. The enemy is dehumanized, the dialogue trite and exhausted, the action scenes shot on the cheap, and the story is twisted, hard to follow, and sometimes pointless. (Example, midway through the movie a great deal is made of Captain Reagan's having brought back an accurate chart of the Japanese mine fields, but when the subs are sent out en masse it turns out the mines have been moved around so the chart is now irrelevant.) The performers do as well as they can under the circumstances, although Nancy Reagan is definitely in the wrong part here. The right parts would have been those taken by the elderly Bette Davis. The cast has a lot of familiar faces, but none of them memorable because of their having given good performances elsewhere, only memorable because we've seen them so often before.
The director should be spanked. A man is knocked about during a depth charge attack and is taken to sick bay. After he's been treated and bandaged up, there are still trickles of blood down his chin and the side of his face. Once winces at such sloppiness. And there is another painfully staged scene, when Reagan and Davis are saying good-bye. Davis's face is in the foreground. She stares unblinkingly just to the left of the camera's lens while Reagan stands behind and speaks to her over her shoulder. This particular part of cinematic grammar must antedate cinema itself.
Should you see it? Well -- why not. It's a historical curiosity if nothing else.
It seems to me a few reviewers are letting their feelings for Reagan as
a president seep into their views on the movie. Probably doesn't help
matters that this was his only on-screen pairing with his future first
lady, Nancy Davis.
This movie is pretty generic in its conflicts. A captain has to make tough decisions in wartime, decisions that cost people their lives. Considering the budget, the scenes were well shot.
This was one of Reagan's last movies, before he went on to be a pitchman and then a politician.
Also surprising is the participation of Admiral Chester Nimitz playing himself. perhaps Nimitz felt the submariners didn't get their due, with all the war movies being made about pilots and infantry, so he lent his credibility to this film.
If you check your feelings about President Reagan at the door, you can enjoy this film for what it is.
US Navy submarines bravely try to penetrate the heavily-mined entrance
to the Sea of Japan, in order to sink enemy shipping which is carrying coal,
food and iron from China to the Japanese homeland.
On one level a simple war action movie, this film is also a commendable study in the morality of leadership. The central question posed by the movie is whether a commander's duty towards a single seaman in obvious danger outweighs his overall responsibility to his crew.
Ronald Reagan is very good as the straight, correct Captain Casey Abbott. Back at Guam he has a girl, a nurse in the military hospital (Nancy Davis, to give her her professional name). When a frogman who is also a rival for the nurse's affections gets into difficulties, Captain Casey has to try to separate personal and professional motivations.
Casey's Executive Officer, Dan Landon, clashes with his skipper but by a twist of fate finds himself having to make a very similar decision. Will he call the plays differently?
The film works as an uncomplicated war story, but does contain a few infelicities. The submariners are depicted as nice guys in order to enlist viewer sympathy, but this is a little overdone and the sailors come across as childish simpletons, stealing cookies and hiding their dice. Wes Barton has to be portrayed as a popular guy so that we will resent his treatment at the Captain's hands, but to have sailors pleading for a Barton story as he is entering the airlock on a dangerous mission is just unbelievable. The crew of the USS Starfish get sealed orders for a special mission. They are to enter the Straits of Tsushima, land a party on a fortified island, and destroy its defences. Would an ordinary submarine crew really be entrusted with such a specialised task? The frogman sequences are shot in murky water and are hard to follow. Penetration of the minefield channel is effected in a few seconds, when such an undertaking would surely last many hours.
For contemporary viewers, much of the film's interest will lie in the unique experience of watching Ron and Nancy onscreen together. They had been married for five years when "Hellcats" was made, and at the time of writing, 42 years later, they are still going strong. It is tempting, if unwarranted, to scrutinize their lines for significant snippets. Ronald Reagan's character is asked what he will do after the War and he announces, "I'm going into the surplus business." Given his leadership style, some would say that was an accurate prediction of both his gubernatorial performance in California and his presidency. Much of Ron's dialogue is an essay on the burden of leadership, and how only a special few are fitted to bear it. Nancy confides to him, "You know I was fresh out of a bad marriage when we met. I wanted to be sure this time. So we played it safe, until I knew you were Mr. Right." In fairness to the Reagans, that, at least, has proved to be autobiographical.
In general, I really like films about submarines. They seem to have a
great sense of drama and tension. However, many years ago when I first
saw "Hellcats of the Navy", my reaction was not very positive.
Fortunately, now that I've re-watched it, I found it was much better
and is actually a worthwhile film. Cerebral and understated...but still
The film is about an American sub and its commander, Casey Abbott (Ronald Reagan). His task is to try to discover a way through the Japanese anti-ship defenses (in other words, mines and nets) so that the Americans can cut off the Japanese supply lines to the mainland. However, his job is made tougher because his first officer doesn't particularly like or respect him. He sees Commander Abbott as too emotionless and cold when it comes to his decisions---and this all begins be a problem after the Commander leaves one of his men behind during a mission.
This is the one and only movie that pairs Reagan with his real life wife, Nancy Davis. That alone is reason to watch it. But the loneliness of command and the life and death decisions made by the captain of a vessel also makes this worth seeing. Could this have been better? Sure...it is a bit too cerebral at times. But still, it is a watchable war film and kept my interest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm sure the tactics used in this movie bar little on how things really
went down, but the movie OK, or a solid "5".
The story was decent and actually kept this thing moving along, action was good for a sub pick, acting was what you would expect from the cast. Only drawback was, like I said, the tactics and equipment used. PT boats as Japanese fast attack ships is one example. Like someone else mentioned, if Capt. Reagan was a commander of a sub in real life, he would've been fired or possible shot for the why he exposed his ship to the enemy. Which oddly enough was how the movie started when he saved his ship instead of one of his crew.
I'm sure if Ron and Nancy weren't in it, it would've long ago been forgotten and rated a couple stars lower. But they are in it, and which makes it worth while to give it a view once, plus Fleet Admial Nimitz has a cameo!
I watched this mainly as a curiosity because of the pairing of Ronald
Reagan and Nancy Davis. As I understand it, this was the only movie
they ever made together. I really don't know much about either of them
as actors. To me, they're the former president and first lady of the
United States, and I don't really recall having seen either of them in
any other movie. This was one of Reagan's last movies before he went
into television and then politics. I've heard a lot of jokes around
Reagan's acting career - but based on this I'd say those have more to
do with people not liking his presidency than his acting. I can
understand why his career was in "B" movies. He wasn't great in this,
but he wasn't bad either.
The movie was a bit formulaic. Reagan played Captain Abbott - a submarine commander in the Pacific in World War II. As the movie opens he has to make a decision that results in the death of a crewman. Coincidentally, that crewman was involved romantically with a nurse named Helen (Davis) - who had previously been involved with Abbott. This set up tension between Abbott and his executive officer, Landon (Arthur Franz) who believed Abbott had been influenced by jealousy.
The movie wasn't bad. There were a few suspenseful scenes as Abbott's sub either attacked or was being attacked by Japanese vessels. I thought it strange that, given the tension and distrust between them, the US Navy would keep Abbott and Landon together, and the whole thing came down to a predictably happy ending for all.
I'd say this movie was OK, as was Reagan's performance. I may have watched it out of curiosity because of Reagan and Davis, but having watched it what really strikes me as interesting was the opening prologue by Admiral Chester Nimitz, who clearly thought that the story of Pacific submariners needed to be told. (6/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Notable for starring a young Ronald Reagan, "Hellcats of the Navy"
(1957) is a barely competent submarine thriller by director Nathan
The plot? Reagan plays Commander Casey Abbot, a submarine commander who locks horns with his executive officer, Lt Commander Landon. Landon feels Abbot is negligent and too often risks the lives of crewmen, Abbot feels Landon isn't ready to make the tough decisions necessary of all submarine commanders. As is typical of such war films, "Hellcats" climaxes with deference to the White Man's Burden. Military men make harsh, often life-taking decisions, we're told, both only so you don't have to and so others may live. Similar false-binaries would get Reagan the US Presiency some years later.
At its best, "Hellcats" offers a glimpse of early 20th century ports, harbours, bulwarks and military vessels. Compared to better maritime thrillers of the era ("Enemy Below", "Run Silent, Run Deep", "Destination Tokyo", "On the Beach", "The Cruel Sea", "Sink the Bismark"), it's mostly inept. The film was based on a non-fiction book by US Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood.
4/10 Worth no viewings.
I first saw this movie in the early 1980's when WTBS of Atlanta (Ted
Turner's "Superstation", which put itself on the cable TV map as the
leading broadcaster of "vintage" movies at that time) started running
it during Ronald Reagan's first presidential administration. At that
time I found it noticeably unsettling to see the sitting President of
the United States and the First Lady appearing in this manner (and
maybe all the more so considering how I had voted for him,
enthusiastically). Recently I got on a War in the Pacific kick and
among other things decided to look at it again for the first time in
years. A few points come to mind:
1. To begin with, the personal conflict which is proffered to serve as the backbone of this story is as badly contrived as any in the history of the movies. The executive officer's tirade and the position he took that prompted it was not only unwarranted, it was ridiculous. The behavior he displayed was not only immature, it just plain incompetent for someone in his position. Indeed, Reagan himself seemed to delay way too long himself in pulling the plug when he got the report of the rapidly closing radar contact -- just ask any submariner of the world war II era about these things (assuming you can find one, at this point). About the only kind thing I can say about this premise is that maybe with some detailed massaging of the script around this point there might have been some way to make it more plausible, but there is precious little that is subtly technical in this movie anyway, and indeed, some of the simpler technical aspects they did attempt to address were handled in too weak a way to be clear to a typical audience member who doesn't know anything about the US submarine campaign in World War II.
2. Having said that, this movie was not as bad as I remembered from my original viewing, or anticipated on commencing my recent one. There is actually some historical basis for the rest of the plot, and in terms of technical detail there is quite a bit that is pretty accurate, for a movie, even if it is by no means a perfect depiction of combat on a submarine of the era, and it indulges in all sorts of classic submarine movie clichés and characteristically highly improbable plot developments. The reference to "Hellcats" in the title was to one particular trio of wolfpacks of American submarines (which usually operated alone rather than in packs) which was nicknamed the Hellcats and organized for the purpose of a simultaneous mass raid on targets within the Sea of Japan in the last few months of the war, just as eventually indicated in the latter part of the movie.
3. Although Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was as important as anybody else in winning World Wart II, and held as much rank as Eisenhower or MacArthur, he never got the same kind of public attention they did (MacArthur being an egotist who actively courted media attention and Ike just being Ike), and as this movie shows he was not at all telegenic. Having so little star power, and regardless of his historical importance, comparing him to the two generals in connection with his appearance in a film is probably not entirely appropriate. A better question might be why he agreed to appear in it at all; I guess they simply asked him him to, and he couldn't tell the difference between Ronald Reagan and Clark Gable or John Wayne, or between an A-list movie and second-rate matinée-fodder, or maybe he didn't even care. I doubt seriously that in his rise to Pacific Ocean Areas Commander-in-Chief and Five Stars (the highest ranking admiral in an operational command in the history of the Navy) he probably had not paid more than cursory attention to the movie industry, lacking either the time, the interest, or both.
On the other hand, I figure that he was willing to lend his appearance to this thing as a way to plug the wartime Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, which didn't earn the nickname "Silent Service" because they were getting the attention and public adulation they deserved. In point of fact, almost one-third of the Japanese warships sunk in World War II were sunk by the US Pacific Fleet submarine force -- even though it amounted to less than 2% of the Navy's total personnel. As if that were not enough, they then went on to sink over 50% of Japan's merchant marine, i.e., commercial shipping, essentially strangling Dai Nippon, the Japanese Empire. As the Navy's designated submarine force historian noted in his official history of the American Pacific submarine offensive, the Atomic Bomb was just the funeral pyre for an enemy which had been drowned at sea. I can't imagine Nimitz, who was also a former submariner himself, not wanting to see that the force finally got the recognition it deserved among all of the up-till-then better-sung heroes of the war in the air and on land and even on the surface of the sea.
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