Thursday, December 1, 2022

Run Silent, Run Deep and The Hunt for Red October: Two Submarine Novels That Made It to the Big Screen

By Zach Smyers
HRNM Educator

Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. wrote his first book, Submarine! in 1952. Three years later he wrote his second book, Run Silent, Run Deep. Beach graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1939. He served aboard three submarines during World War Two, participating in twelve combat patrols, and received the Navy Cross for his actions. His first book was a collection of war patrols based on his own experiences as well as those of other US submarines that had served during the war. The book received high praise from Time magazine, and Beach’s first attempt as a published author was indeed a success. His second book, Run Silent, Run Deep is considered to be a classic regarding submarine warfare.

Commander Edward Beach, 1960 (Wikimedia Commons)

Run Silent, Run Deep became a bestseller shortly after it was released, and was included on the list of the 250 outstanding books of the year for 1955. The plot of the story revolves around the fictional submarine U.S.S. Walrus and its crew taking on Japanese naval forces in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The popularity of the book eventually led to a feature film, which began production in 1957. The film version of Run Silent, Run Deep starred Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster (also one of the producers of the film), and was the film debut of comedian Don Rickles. 

The book cover for Run Silent, Run Deep

Released on March 27, 1958, the film was praised by critics for its action and realism regarding undersea warfare. The producers used cutting-edge special effects, as well as consulting active-duty submariners to train the cast. Set designers created realistic sets depicting the working and living conditions aboard a submarine. The director of photography utilized tight shots of the actors portraying the crew, visually demonstrating to the viewing audience the close quarters nature of submarine service. The producers also had access to USS Redfish (SS 395) to film exterior shots, and used authentic submarine equipment in the interior sets.

Run Silent, Run Deep movie poster, 1958 (Wikimedia Commons)

Probably the most noticeable inaccuracy in the film is the age of the characters played by Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. At 56 years old, Gable played Commander Edward Richardson, who was based on Edward Beach. In reality, Gable’s character would have been in his 20s during the war. The same could be said for Lancaster, 44 years old during filming, who played the part of Executive Officer Jim Bledsoe.

Fast forward to 1984 and an insurance agent-turned-author by the name of Tom Clancy created another bestselling submarine novel. Like Beach’s Run Silent Run Deep, Clancy’s debut novel, The Hunt for Red October, is primarily about submarines. At the center of the story is a brand new Russian submarine, the Red October, capable of carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles. This submarine’s commanding officer decides to defect to the United States during the height of the Cold War. The book was noted for its authenticity and technical detail in terms of both US and Russian submarines. It might surprise readers to learn that Clancy never served in the Navy. Due to poor eyesight, Clancy was unable to join any branch of the armed services of the United States. He sold his book to the Naval Institute Press of Annapolis, Maryland, for $5,000. The book would go on to sell over 45,000 copies. It became a national bestseller, and even President Ronald Reagan could be counted as a fan of the work.

Tom Clancy (New York Daily News)

In 1990, Clancy’s book became a feature film. Distributed by Paramount Pictures with a production budget of $30 million, the filmmakers also had support and cooperation from the US Navy. The Navy loaned ships, submarines, and a helicopter for filming purposes. This support added additional authenticity to the look and feel of the film, and the benefit of over thirty years of improvement in movie special effects.

Book cover, The Hunt for Red October

The cast of the film included a young Alec Baldwin playing Clancy’s hero, CIA analyst Jack Ryan, as well as the man who brought James Bond to life on the big screen, Sean Connery. Connery played the veteran Russian submarine captain and would-be defector, Marko Ramius. The film stayed fairly true to the book, and the Navy’s mindset at the time was that perhaps this movie could generate interest in serving in the submarine force much like what Top Gun did for naval aviation. Released on March 2, 1990, The Hunt for Red October was well received by movie goers and critics with a final worldwide gross of over $200 million.

The Hunt for Red October movie poster (Greatbigcanvas.com)

Run Silent, Run Deep and The Hunt for Red October gave readers and moviegoers a glimpse into the world of submarine warfare. Although Hollywood is never “perfect” regarding military films, the strength of these two stories helped provide audiences with some insight to the challenges Sailors faced while serving on submarines during World War Two and the Cold War.

Sean Connery and Alex Baldwin on the set for The Hunt for Red October (stumptownblogger.typeset.com)


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