Mon 11 Jan 2016
SUBMARINE RAIDER. Columbia Pictures, 1942. John Howard, Marguerite Chapman, Bruce Bennett, Warren Ashe, Eileen O’Hearn, Philip Ahn, Larry Parks, Forrest Tucker. Director: Lew Landers.
If you can look past the “those treacherous Japanese fifth columnists” angle and production values that leave much to be desired, you may soon find that Submarine Raider is a decent enough flag waver that punches above its low budget weight.
Directed by Lew Landers (along with an un-credited Budd Boetticher), this patriotic programmer is a highly fictionalized dramatization of events leading up to the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. This isn’t Howard Hawks’ Air Force (1943), a film that benefited highly from James Wong Howe’s cinematography. Not even close. But it’s not nearly as much a total clunker as I expected it would turn out to be.
John Howard, who went on to a highly prolific career in television, portrays Commander Chris Warren, a submariner in charge of a vessel that rescues damsel in distress, a surprisingly calm and collected Sue Curry (Marguerite Chapman), from a lifeboat floating along in the Pacific. All was going well enough for Sue and her friends aboard a civilian ship until the Japanese Navy decided to blow them out of the water on their way to Pearl Harbor.
This, of course, is historical nonsense. But it gets the story moving and makes international politics into a personal story. And speaking of personal stories, Commander Warren’s brother, Bill (Warren Ashe), is a government agent in Honolulu investigating Japanese spies. When he gets killed on December 7, it’s gloves off for our intrepid submarine commander protagonist.
Watching Submarine Raider ends up being less an exercise in film appreciation than it is a glance backward in time to an era in which American anxieties about the War in the Pacific remained at an all time high. Look for the scene in which Warren toasts the Japanese Navy: “Bottom’s Up!” It’s all terribly dated, but then again, not every movie was made to speak to timeless, universal themes.