I put Robert Wise in the same basic category as John Huston or Richard Brooks: they’re all impossible to pin down in terms of genre. Wise, who’s directed noirs, musicals, and science-fiction among others, here makes a really good war movie.
The film has a nice, late turn from Clark Gable, as Commander Richardson, a submarine commander obsessed with finding the Japanese sub that took him out once before. Opposite Gable is Burt Lancaster as Lt. Jim Bledsoe, the crew’s man, who alternately opposes and agrees with Richardson’s decisions.
This is 1958, the end of the classic noir period. Though this isn’t a noir, it does take on some of the psychological characteristics of that style. Richardson suffers from near PTSD. The crew, though largely (absurdly) all machismo, still shows signs of true fear. The tight quarters of the sub replace the narrow alleys of earlier noirs, and Tokyo Rose – a constant radio presence – is the femme fatale.
The film is tense, and much of that is due to Wise’s spot-on directing. Here’s a great sequence towards the end of the film:
One of the best parts of this sequence is the sound – Wise uses that beeping, which is a major plot point, to tie all of the locations together. The sound bridge at 0:34 is awesome, bringing us from Richardson and Bledsoe’s sub to the Japanese sub really fluidly.
But my favorite part of this scene is the first cut, right at 0:04. We go from the medium of Richardson to the profile close-up just as we get a voiceover of his recollection. On one hand, it’s a simple cut: let’s see his reaction. But we could still get that sweat on his brow from the previous frame. It’s actually more of a psychological cut. The rhythm of it tells us that something has changed. Wise is a good enough director to know that simplicity often gets great results. He’s been abiding by that the entire film. When he makes a cut, therefore, we know it isn’t superfluous. Because we learn no immediate new information from the profile (see: we can already see his reaction from the previous frame), we intimate that it must be telegraphing us information. It’s an editor’s edit. One of those subtle ones that does move the story along, but only in a subconscious way.
Gotta love some good rear projection. Like this one with an explosion deep in the background of the shot:
The cut back here is a nice look at two careers going in opposite directions. Lancaster, fresh off of films like Sweet Smell of Success and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and with Elmer Gantry and Judgment at Nuremberg still to come, is upright and confident; Gable, with only four more films before his death in 1960, is bent and haggard:
Run Silent Run Deep is also the only film I know of besides my beloved Dirty Work that also stars Jack Warden and Don Rickles.