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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though not known at the time of the filming (in fact, not for over thirty
years afterwards!) this incident happened; except that it was a United
States submarine and Soviet destroyers. I will not provide the ending for
The Bedford Incident-simply rent or buy the movie to see the ending and then
compare with the true life incident.
In 1957 a U.S. diesel submarine went into Soviet waters on a reconnaisance (spy) mission. It was detected by Soviet destroyers. The submarine tried to surface and run but the Soviet destroyers threw hand grenades into the water as a warning to the submarine not to try to run for the open ocean. The U.S. submarine had no choice but to remain submerged. Finally, after three days (they were NOT nuclear powered; they were like the Soviet submarine in the movie and hence could not remain underwater for long periods of time) their air was very close to running out and they were almost totally out of battery power. The Soviet warships were still on the surface above them. The U.S. Captain realized there was no option and prepared his crew to surface, to try to fight their way out, and probably be taken captive by the Soviets as there was no way they could outfight all the Soviet ships. The submarine surfaced with the last of it's air and battery power. The Soviet ships did not interfere with the submarine as it surfaced. Instead, as the submarine started it's diesel engines the Soviet ships went into a "U" shape in back of the submarine and followed as the submarine made it's way into international waters (i.e. the Soviets simply wanted to direct the submarine to leave in a direct path out of Soviet waters). When the submarine finally made international waters the Soviet ships turned around and let the submarine proceed by itself back home. Just as the Soviet flagship turned about it sent a message by flashing light to the submarine "thanking them for the sonar practice"!
I saw this film when it was released in the mid 1960s, again on VHS over the
years and finally on satelite television. It holds up very well. The theme
of obsession in the line of duty is as relevant today as it was when
Melville wrote "Moby Dick". The acting is excellent. Hats off to Eric
Portman as the West German Navy commodore advisor in submarine warfare. He
sort of reprises his roles in the "49th Parallel" and "We Dive at Dawn". He
is one Englishman who portrays a great German. Martin Balsam does his usual
excellent work as the under appreciated ship's doctor. This also contains
yet another of Sydney Poitier's race neutral rolls. Very revolutionary for
the mid 1960s ("Lillies of the Field" being another).
The ship model and iceberg scenes seem a bit dated in this digital graphics era but I shudder with cold every time I there is an exterior scene. I sailed in Greenland waters once and I know what is feels like on that grey ocean under that grey sky.
Clearly, this is British production. One interior shot of the ship shows a rack of Enfield rifles, already obsolete by the time this film was made. Not a problem really.
The suspense and tesnion hold up well after several viewings and the inevitable ending is, well, inevitable.
If you did not grow up during the Cold War this film will have less impact than living with the bomb ("The bomb, Alexi, the Hydrogen bomb..." oh, that was another cold war film).
The Cold War is one of the world's most frightening conflicts ever as it nearly extinguished humanity. During this time, suspicious nations rattled atomic sabers at one another and secret agencies scurried about disseminating Ideological propaganda and psychological warfare, but for the most part the only thing accomplished was that Americans spent billions threatening a distant enemy who ultimately became our friend. One exceptional film which appear during this era, was " The Bedford Incident." It is the story of an American reporter Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier) who seeks out a controversial naval officer, because he believes him to be a rare individual. That particular man is Captain Eric Finlander. (Richard Widmark) a no-nonsense commander who is determined to do his duty, even if it means destroying a stray Russian Submarine, armed with nuclear missiles. While Munceford is trying to fathom the Captain, he notices everyone under Finlander's command is being subjected to increasing pressure, enormous stress and intolerable strain to remain on high alert as if war could be initiated at any time. From an audience point of view, the tension on board the Bedford, mirrors the terrifying state of fear in the world. Helping the audience analyze the situation is Lieut. Cmdr. Chester Potter (Martin Balsam) a naval Doctor who warns the Captain of mounting psychological dangers of his crew. One such officer is Ensign Ralston (James MacArthur) who the doctor warns is wound 'too tight' to be on duty. Another is Seaman Merlin Queffle (Wally Cox) who believes he controls the ship. This is a remarkable film, for it's characters, it's drama and eventually it's inevitable ending. It's a reminder, the fears we create are as real as our nightmares. ****
Having served aboard this very class of ship during the late 60's and
70's, I can attest that the events, from a technical standpoint, are
frighteningly real. The Queeg-like personality of the Captain is a bit of
stretch, but the events in the movie come right out of the battle plans of
the Navy (at the time).
The tension of the situation is palpable. Even at the time, the outcome was in doubt, but the outcome was believable. It still is.
Richard Widmark is a determined naval ship captain in "The Bedford
Incident," which also stars Sidney Poitier, Eric Portman, Martin
Balsam, James Macarthur, and Wally Cox. This is quite a different
meeting from the one Widmark and Poitier had in "No Way Out," where
Widmark is a bigot who lashes out at Poitier. Poitier in this film
plays a journalist, and there is never any mention of his color. This
is not only remarkable but marvelous. Martin Balsam is the ship's new
doctor. Poitier and Balsam board ship together and pick up almost
immediately that there is a tension on board and that the men are
intimidated by their cold, tough captain.
The Bedford's assignment is to patrol for Russian subs and ships.
When a submarine is detected in the area, the captain seems to want to take the matter too far. Portman, as a German adviser, disagrees with him.
The role of the captain, Finlander, is the type of role normally associated with Widmark, and he is excellent as an uncompromising man reminiscent of Captain Queeg. Poitier turns in a stellar performance, which really builds as he becomes more and more concerned about the captain and the potential international situation. Martin Balsam is very good, actually providing, along with Wally Cox, a little comic relief.
The scenes showing the gray sea and huge icebergs might be dated now, given what film technology is capable of, but they are no less evocative of the atmosphere. After the buildup of drama and tension, the last moments of the film are incredibly exciting - staggering even. And you'll do what I did - just sit and stare at the words "The End." A very good film.
Channel surfing, I stumbled across this movie on TCM and must say, "Wow!" As a child during the Cold War, I remember the tension between America and Russia, which this film captures well -- at least from the U.S. perspective. Richard Widmark's performance tops that of Humphrey Bogart in "The Caine Mutiny," strawberries or not. Sidney Poitier fits his role like a glove -- the scene between Poitier and Widmark in the latter's cabin is splendidly acted, allowing the viewer to get inside Widmark's head while not giving away too much -- and Martin Balsam gives another example why he was one of the screen's greatest supporting actors. It's better than "Fail Safe," sparing us Henry Fonda's hysterics as president. The tension builds aboard ship until a breathtaking climax. One worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an excellent cold war thriller,(in fact some might say horror)
about a US destroyer pursuing a Soviet submarine in the
Greenland/Arctic region. I say pursuing, it's not done anything wrong
other than veer into US territorial waters, whether it was deliberate
or accidental nobody is really sure? The USS Bedfords skipper is Capt
Finlander played by Richard Widmark who is very believable and just as
dislike able as an obsessive control freak, probably with a chip on his
shoulder who decides to teach the Soviet sub a lesson. Under such
circumstances the strong arm tactics used requires the use of in your
face tracking and aggressive screening of the Russian sub with the
intention of eventually forcing the submarine to surface when the
batteries need recharging. This type of brinkmanship is designed to
show whose boss!
It's typical cold war because the US and the USSR often played this sort of cat and mouse game shadowing each others ships, aircraft or sailing/flying into each others territorial waters/air space were part and parcel of the cold war shenanigans. The rules of engagement were simple, harass the enemy and try to get one up on them, but under no circumstances be the first one to fire! It's a British made film which is done in black and white. I don't know if this was deliberate or a cost-cutting measure but it creates an oppressive and distinctively chilly atmosphere throughout which also makes the models and fake Arctic scenes to be less obvious. It's just a typical cold and gray overcast conditions for this region. However, effects and exterior shots are not an important part of the film. It's the dialog, tension, camera angles and back ground noise which creates the atmosphere.
Another important observation is, and again I don't know if it was deliberate but you don't see this from the Russian perspective. This decision is interesting it neither humanizes them which would allow sympathy, nor does it allow the Soviets to appear as crazed fanatics; they are simply there! I would have to say that this decision would probably lead the viewer to feel sorry for the Soviets, then again back in 1965 maybe not. In addition, I've never been in submarine but I would have thought that being in a submarine would have given you an edge. From this movie's perspective not only are the Americans perceived as being the aggressors but also having the upper hand. Once a submarine has lost the element of surprise perhaps the surface ship does have the advantage. I always thought that being in a submarine, although very claustrophobic would probably be an advantage! I don't know how realistic this is and would like to know the answer to that? In a none combat environment a surface ship probably can hold out for longer, although why one sub couldn't give one ship the slip is a mystery to me, I'd like to know the answer to that too?
Sydney Poitier is a journalist who has landed on the ship by helicopter to observe, take photos and interview the captain and certain members of the crew for a magazine article. Martin Balsam is the ships physician who is disliked by Finlander and the feeling is mutual. The doctor is intimidated by his skipper which is crucial as the movie unfolds. Support actors are James MacArther who Finlander singles out as a slacker, Eric Portman who plays a former U-boat commander and now a West German naval adviser for NATO who trys to help Finlander get an insight into the thinking of the Russian captain. And lastly there is the sonar genius played by Wally Cox. However, Poiter and Richard Widmark are the main actors and Widmark is totally believable as the captain who works his crew hard, keeps them on edge and goes about his duties with relish and glee! It's important to note that Finlander is not mad or insane, nor should he be compared to a captain Blythe or captain Queeg. He is a committed patriot, perhaps too sure of himself and simply enjoys this type of confrontation. He'll push his men as far as he has to, because he comes from the school that believes that his actions and methods can be justified by the fact he is saving American lives.
When this was made the fear of all out nuclear war was very much on every bodies mind, particularly after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. In the 60's there were a lot of doomsday movies made which included the likes of Fail Safe and later in the 70's there were movies like TWILIGHTS LAST GLEAMING and by the early 80's WORLD WAR III and THE DAY AFTER. However, the cold war ended and none of these grim events occurred, so perhaps the alarm created by these movies were grossly overstated. Maybe our political masters knew what they were doing all along and the nightmare scenarios were peddled for political purposes by left wing trouble makers! But then again, in the light of recent international events being so badly judged and managed, perhaps it was just luck all along! I don't know the answer to that either?
What I do know is that this film is a treat, it drags a bit in a couple of scenes but the tension builds as it moves to a climax. In particular, is the effective use of the sonar becoming louder and quicker the nearer the USS Bedford gets to the Soviet sub, this is very gripping and certainly keeps your attention. You know something is going to happen, but you are not sure what? The ending is shocking and spectacular and you can see why Hollywood couldn't make such a film. I would highly recommend this movie!
This movie is a cold war tale of an American destroyer hunting a Soviet submarine. The tension builds up wonderfully throughout the film and eventually explodes, both on personnel and greater levels. Tension is present between the skilled but hard nosed captain(Richard Widmark) and a reporter sent aboard(Sidney Poitier). The captain also faces off against the ship's new doctor. Widmark and Poitier both give simply outstanding performances. This film is about them, not explosions or battle scenes. The supporting cast also gives fine performances, including Martin Balsam as the doctor and Eric Portman as a German submarine commander on board as an advisor. It has been said that this film inspired the recent production "Crimson Tide"(which I believe is much less impressive), and after watching you can see why. In turn, I think it is also possible that the producers and writers of "The Bedford Incident" were influenced by "Dr Strangelove" which came out the previous year. While this a drama, not a black comedy, there are some parallels.
For me, this is one of the best movies of the cold war era, up there with the likes of "Fail Safe" and "On the Beach". Extremely well directed and acted, it should be on any collector's shelf as DVD when so released. The tension is maintained throughout and the climax is one of the best in a film that I have ever seen. Also significant is the fact that Sidney Poitier's colour is never an issue either verbally or by implication, something quite remarkable for a movie made over 35 years ago.
The film contains one (or more) of the great character studies of its
period--and indeed, is one of the few films that can sustain itself
principally on character interaction, irrespective of plot (and the
plot itself builds steady tension, a la Hunt for Red October). The
pacing is brilliant, the acting is top-shelf, the claustrophobic
shipboard mood is electrifying, the escalating, multi-tiered sense of
confrontation between the key characters is riveting, and the
payoff--though admittedly predictable, by the time you get there--is
effective and unnerving nevertheless, especially if one is able to
toggle back to the Cold War mentality that birthed this film.
I too was a bit put off by the studied and self-conscious Widmark reactions at two or three points in the film--the tactic becomes a well to which Widmark/Lumet go back at least twice too often (the last time, I found myself almost wanting to scream, "We GET it!"). But that's a very small price to pay for the overall cinematic genius (not too strong a word) of this movie. The script alone--in particular the climactic riposte Portman delivers unto the increasingly pathological Widmark towards the end of the film--is a masterwork rivaled by few other films of the era (or any era, for that matter). If you've seen the film, you know the line to which I'm referring. If you haven't seen the film, do yourself a favor and rectify that shortcoming.
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