Capt. Ramsey: Those sailors out there are just boys… boys who are training to do a terrible and unthinkable thing, and if that ever occurs the only reassurance they’ll have that they’re doing the proper thing is gonna derive from their unqualified belief in the unified chain of command. That means we don’t question each other’s motives in front of the crew. It means we don’t undermine each other. It means in a missile drill, they hear your voice right after mine, without hesitation. Do you agree with that policy, sailor?
Hunter: Absolutely, sir.
Capt. Ramsey: We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.
That was a dialogue between Gene Hackman as Captain Frank Ramsey and Denzel Washington as Lt. Commander Ron Hunter as the XO of the submarine, the USS Alabama. This 1995 film was called Crimson Tide and it is the latest in my Looking Back Twenty Years film series.
Structurally the film is so much like so many other naval films. There’s usually an up from the ranks Captain. He’s almost always an older man, he may be crusty or even cantankerous, or someplace in between. He is set in his ways, can be petty, mean-spirited, and selfish, He doesn’t brook any dissenting opinions from his subordinate officers who are always younger, smarter as in better educated, and have different philosophies on everything from commanding men to taking orders.
You already know some of the main players in this genre – Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian from Mutiny on the Bounty, Captain Queeg and Lt. Steve Maryk from The Caine Mutiny, Cmdr Rich Richardson and Lt. Jim Bledsoe from Run Silent, Run Deep, and to keep the list manageable, Lt Commander Morton and Lt J.G. Doug Roberts from Mr. Roberts.
Some of Hollywood’s biggest names have appeared in films about the naval warfare and men under stress during those conflicts. James Cagney, Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Mel Gibson, Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Henry Fonda to name just a few. Of course in Crimson Tide, Hackman and Washington get above the title star billing. But this film also featured the then relatively unknowns James Gandolfini and Viggo Mortensen. as well as George Dzundza who also appeared in The Deer Hunter and No Way Out.
As the film begins, NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani is aboard a French aircraft carrier somewhere in the Mediterranean.