SUBMARINE X-1 (1968)
William A. Graham
James Caan, David Sumner, Paul Young, Norman Bowler, Brian Grellis and Rupert Davies.
“Submarine X-1” is just another of several WWII films that rolled out of Oakmont Productions in the late 1960s. Like “Attack on the Iron Coast” and “Mosquito Squadron”, this flick lacks innovation, flair and plays like an extended episode of “Black Sheep Squadron”. Movies like this were never meant for the big screen. Director Graham had worked almost solely on made-for-TV films up until this point, and it’s no surprise that he went back to that medium. His attempt at making a war film is a big disaster.
The rather boring script is written by John C. Champion, who takes the X raid on the German pocket battleship Tirpitz and turns it into what should be a rousing tale of heroism and courage. It's not. Surprised? Lt. Cmdr. Bolton (James Caan, “A Bridge too Far”) loses his submarine in the North Atlantic and his men blame him for the ship's destruction and death of 50 crewmen. Well, he's cleared of guilt and re-assigned to train crews of experimental midget submarines - and, what a shock - some of his distrusting former crewmembers wind up in the squad he's too train!
I don't know where to start with a film like this. It's not particularly bad. It's just... well... not good. The sets, including some marvelous Scottish scenery and great submarine interiors, look beautiful and Ron Goodwin's music score is rousing as usual, these are the only good things about this movie. James Caan is a great actor; watch “The Godfather” series and try to say he's a poor actor. It's not that he can't act in this movie. He's never given an opportunity to act! He just mumbles occasional, witless dialogue and gives everyone around him strange facial expressions. The supporting cast don't make much of an impact, either. Everyone simply goes through their paces, carries out the mission and in 90 minutes, we've learned nothing about them and can't care less when some of them get killed. Interestingly enough, most of the supporting cast is comprised of English television-actors, which just adds to the “made-for-TV” look and feel of this film.
It’s also important to note that everything about this movie is a pure cliché.. Bolton’s character and those around him are built around our expectations based on other war films like “The Devil’s Brigade”. Bolton is simply a stereotype, and not even a two-dimensional one at that. The German characters range from stupid to stupider, from the parachutists that attack the secret submarine base and talk with terrible accents, to the Navy officers who question prisoners and yell a lot but never appear particularly menacing. They waste their time with interrogations about a surviving submarine, rather than doing something practical – such as sending one of dozens of E-Boats out to search for the sneaky enemy vessel! This film couldn’t get anymore clichéd if it tried; all it lacks is a sappy love interest. Interestingly enough, there is one blond bombshell – but she only gets once scene and then is forgotten rather abruptly. The nuts and bolts of a good film are all present, but never developed.
The special effects are pretty poor, as is the case with every other Oakmont Production to emerge in its understandably short existence. The underwater photography is fantastic, but every time Graham takes his camera above the water, viewers are treated to shots of obvious toy ships being blown to pieces. The miniatures look like they came out of a Japanese monster movie – not a war movie! The camerawork in the talky scenes is unoriginal and flat and the film just looks boring.
When watching a movie like this, one has to take into account the time period in which it was made. “Submarine X-1” and every other film of its kind belonged on the small screen or, better yet, on the big screen as propaganda films during 1943 or 1944. As a late-60s action piece, this one ultimately fails despite some obviously good intentions.