Heston plays the skipper of a nuclear powered submarine which goes down in a collision. Things get further complicated when the 'gray lady' is buried partially in an undersea mudslide, blocking the escape hatch.
The Naval Rescue service is on the job however, but this will prove a difficult task.
The film is divided evenly between Heston and his crew as Heston tries to keep morale up that the survivors will be rescued and on the surface rescue vessel where a conflict between two captains hampers the rescue effort. Stacy Keach is the captain of the rescue vessel and his conflict is with Keith Carradine also of captain's rank who's developed a special undersea two man vessel that can scoop the dirt off the gray lady.
Special mention should go to Ronny Cox who is Heston's number two and also not really getting along with him, but who steps up to the plate in a most heroic fashion.
In 1978 when Gray Lady Down came out there were still memories of the submarine U.S.S. Thresher which went down in 1963 with all hands lost in one of the U.S. Navy's worst disasters at sea. A lot of what you see in this film was developed because of that tragedy.
Gray Lady Down is a no nonsense sea rescue film with the impossible situations that characterized a lot of the films of this type kept out of the story. It's one of the best and yet most unsung of the disaster films of the decade. Should be seen more often. Charlton Heston and the rest of the cast do a fine job on this film.