Submarine Command – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Farrow/Holden submarine drama debuts on Blu-ray
Submarine Command Screenshot

Let’s look at Submarine Command. After being picked up from RKO Radio Pictures, John Farrow very quickly established himself as one of Paramount’s top directors in the 1940’s, with films like Wake Island (1942), China (1943), Two Years Before the Mast (1946), The Big Clock (1948), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (also 1948) and Alias Nick Beal (1949). By the time he made Submarine Command, Farrow was nearing the end of his tenure with the studio. Kino has licensed the movie for its home video debut.

Submarine Command (1951)
Released: 01 Nov 1951
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 87 min
Director: John Farrow
Genre: Drama, War
Cast: William Holden, Nancy Olson, William Bendix
Writer(s): Jonathan Latimer
Plot: Submarine commander Ken White reminisces about his wartime years aboard submarine USS Tiger Shark and struggles with feelings of personal guilt.
IMDB rating: 6.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 27 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/14/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 4/5

Right at the end of WWII, Navy Lt. Commander Kenneth “Ken” White (William Holden) orders the USS Tiger Shark to dive in order to evade a Japanese aerial attack; it’s successful, but the ship’s commanding officer and quartermaster are lost at sea in the process. Although the C.O.’s widow and father don’t blame Ken for his decision, the aftermath still haunts him to the point it starts to interfere with his marriage with Carol (Nancy Olson). When the Korean War breaks out, Ken is reassigned to the Tiger Shark for a special mission, along with Boyer (William Bendix), a fellow shipmate from WWII who still nurses a grudge against Ken for the deaths of their captain and quartermaster. For Ken, the mission provides an opportunity to rid himself of the demons that have plagued him since the end of WWII.

Submarine Command stands out amongst the many films dealing with WWII for being one of the first movies in Hollywood to deal with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). John Farrow – who was certainly no stranger to making war pictures, but also served in the Royal Navy during WWII (until illness forced a discharge) – is adept at setting up the action sequences that bookend the picture in both the end of WWII and the start of the Korean War. However, the biggest surprise here is that Farrow impresses with his staging of the more dramatic middle in which Ken’s struggle with PTSD starts to come to the surface; this part of the film was the subject of some polarizing criticism during its initial release, with some praising the film while others dismissed it for the seemingly melodramatic aspect of the second act of the movie. The most impressive thing about the movie is the solid performances from the cast along with the action sequences, while Farrow guides the film with the precision of a captain guiding his ship and crew through a stormy sea. In the end, Submarine Command is a hidden gem of a movie and one that’s worth seeking out for dealing with the psychological aspects of surviving combat.

Just fresh off of earning a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. (1950), William Holden has one of his most underrated performances as Ken White, the lieutenant commander trying to rid himself of guilt over the death of his commanding officer; he even contributed $20,000 of his own money to the film’s budget (can’t say if he saw a return on that investment). Reuniting with Holden here – her co-star on Sunset Blvd. – Nancy Olson is solid as the concerned wife of Ken; she would later make notable appearances in Disney’s live-action films Pollyanna (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). Collaborating with Farrow for the sixth and final time here, William Bendix gives memorable support as Boyer, the USS Tiger Shark crewman who can’t quell the pain and anger he has towards Ken over the death of their commanding officer; future director Don Taylor has one of his more notable supporting roles here as Peter Morris, a friend of Ken’s after being rescued by the Tiger Shark at the end of WWII. Rounding out the cast here are Arthur Franz as Lt. Arnie Carlson, Darryl Hickman as ensign Jack Wheelwright, Jack Gregson and Don Dunning as – respectively – the Tiger Shark’s commanding officer Joshua Rice and quartermaster lost at sea when Ken orders the dive to evade the aerial attack, Peggy Webber as Rice’s widow, Moroni Olsen as Rice’s father, Jack Kelly as Lt. Paul Barton, Jerry Paris (also a future director) as Sgt. Gentry and Philip Van Zandt as the journalist who inadvertently triggers the feelings of guilt Ken has over the dive.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a HD transfer created in 2020 by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the film elements. Film grain, fine details and gray scale are all faithfully presented with only minimal cases of damage present, like scratches, tears and dirt; much of this is limited to scenes utilizing stock footage. Overall, this release is likely the best the film will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and David Buttolph’s music score are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by filmmaker/historian Steve Mitchell and Combat Films: American Realism author Steven Jay Rubin – Recorded for this release, Mitchell and Rubin examine the many aspects of movie from production to its depiction of PTSD.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Turning PointThe Bridges at Toko-RiThe Horse SoldiersThe Counterfeit TraitorThe 7th DawnThe Devil’s BrigadeChinaWake IslandAttack! Run Silent, Run Deep

Overall: 4/5

Though it faded from the public over the years – due to its unavailable status on home video – Submarine Command is an impressive look (one of the first in a Hollywood movie) at the aftermath of how trauma from conflict can linger with those who survive armed conflict. Kino should be commended in rescuing this move from obscurity, with a solid HD transfer and an informative commentary track as a special feature. Very highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Robert Crawford

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Thank you for your review. I should have the Kino Blu-ray tomorrow, but I received the Via Vision Blu-ray as part of the "Directed by John Farrow" BD Collection last week and watched two of the films "Botany Bay" and this one. I'm thinking both the Kino and Via Vision Blu-rays are derived from the same scan. I'll do a comparison between the two. However, there are differences with the bonus material. The Via Vision has a different audio commentary by other people and a few other featurettes that's not on the Kino Blu-ray. With that said, I love listening to Mitchell and Rubin's audio commentaries on "War" movies. I find them entertaining and enlightening.

It's been decades since I last watched this movie on a local TV station, probably back to at least my teenage years. Anyhow, I do have one issue with this movie and that is an experienced Navy veteran like Bendix's character should have realized after time and reflection that
Holden made the correct decision during that faithful battle that took place just after they realized the war was over. I just never bought into the continued resentment which didn't help Holden dealing with his PTSD.
 
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