Anchors Aweigh! or My Favorite Movies about the Navy

May 21, 2002

The Bottom Line I really like these films about the Navy. Some of them are really dated but that's half the charm!

I grew up in a Navy family. My dad put in 23 years of service and was with the Civil Engineer Corps over in Vietnam when I was born. According to my mom, when I was very tiny, I used to say "Daddy" every time I saw a man in a U.S. Navy uniform. Understandably, I have a soft spot for this particular branch of the service and when you combine that with a love of film, that's the genesis for my review.

My list of movies consists entirely of older films that you might not have seen. Most of these were made as "B" movies but that doesn't make them any less enjoyable.

In alphabetical order:

Away All Boats (1956)
Jeff Chandler stars as the Annapolis graduate who is captain of the U.S.S. Belinda, a amphibious attack troop transport ship during World War II. The crew is inexperienced and incompetent but becomes a team. There's really not too much going on here plot-wise, but the U.S. Navy did cooperate with the film's producers so you'll see footage of actual maneuvers shot near Puerto Rico. This is my father's all time favorite film. I'm not sure why. I've seen it dozens of times so it's a sentimental thing for me.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Wow. Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson star in this unforgettable drama about an unstable Naval captain. I would love to say more about this film but I don't want to give away a single hint about the plot (other than that there is a mutiny and the ship is the U.S.S. Caine) or the eventual outcome. Let's just say that if you haven't seen this film, it's one that you absolutely should not skip.

Destination Tokyo (1943)
Cary Grant stars in this classic film as young submarine captain. You might think that only older men commanded subs in the Silent Service, but during World War II, subs were the domain of younger men. The basic plot has Grant's Copperfin scouting Tokyo Bay to clear the way for Doolittle's raiders. The director (Delmer Daves) paid an incredible amount of attention to detail and almost every incident in the film either really happened or was a credible possibility. Although this was also a wartime propaganda film, it's still worth watching today.

The Enemy Below (1957)
Here we have a cat and mouse game being played between the captain of an American destroyer (played by Robert Mitchum) and the captain of a German U-Boat (played by Curt Jurgens). It's an amazing tension-filled film that is anti-war, pro-United States and at the same time, it doesn't vilify the enemies of the United States from World War II. The audience is shown the respect that each captain has for the other's abilities and I was glued to my seat for the entire showing.

The Fighting Seabees (1944)
I love this film because my dad was a Seabee when he was on active duty as a member of the Civil Engineer Corps. You might be wondering just what is a Seabee. It's Navy lingo for a member of a "Construction Battalion" or "C.B.". They have a great logo of an angry bee that looks more like a hornet flying and shooting a machine gun. This film is straight fiction and stars John Wayne in a Navy Western. A saving grace is that John Wayne actually dies in combat.

Hellcats of the Navy (1957)
The basic plot of the film is that a Japanese mine must be captured so that it can be studied. The script can be called hackneyed at best. The film is still on my list because it starred Ronald Reagan and his future wife, Nancy Davis.

Mister Roberts (1955)
There's not much I can say about this classic comedy that hasn't already been said. It's one of the finest films I've ever seen and Jack Lemmon deservedly earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ensign Pulver. Henry Fonda gives a rich portrayal of Mister Roberts who so badly wants to get into the action of the war and off of the cargo ship to which he has been assigned (as well as away from his tyrannical captain who is portrayed by James Cagney). The scene where Ensign Pulver accidentally destroys the laundry is one of the funniest I've ever seen.

Operation Petticoat (1959)
Believe it or not, this comedy is actually based upon real events! There really was a pink submarine (Seadragon) that was caught while being repaired and had to sail out of the Philippines. There really was a submarine evacuation of nurses from Corregidor. This comedy stars Cary Grant and Tony Curtis as the captain and executive officer respectively of the submarine who must deal with having five Army nurses aboard.

Run Silent, Run Deep
Despite a fantabulous totally impossible start (with the captain of a sunken submarine popping up on a life raft in Japan and all of a sudden finding himself in Hawaii), this film starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster reminds me of Moby Dick. You've got a captain obsessing about sinking the ship that sunk his first submarine. Then you have his Lieutenant who disagrees with the captain's method and his madness.

Victory At Sea (1952)
Technically, this is 26 television documentary episodes about the Navy in World War II that are strung together to make a film. However, it deserves mention on my list for the score alone which was composed by Richard Rogers. I don't know about you but I can't help but smile whenever I hear "Under the Southern Cross".

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