From Novel to Film pt. 35: Run Silent, Run Deep

"Deep in the sea there is no motion, no sound, save that put there by the insane humors of man. Even the occasional snort or burble of a porpoise are all in low key, subdued, responsive to the primordial quietness of the deep. Of life there is, of course, plenty, and of death too, for neither is strange to the ocean. But even life and death, though violent, make little or noise in the deep sea."

Novel (1955) written by Edward Beach. Film (1958) directed by Robert Wise and written by John Gay.

Before we jump into today's offering: those among you who play the Dog Star Omnibus From Novel to Film home game undoubtedly noticed that the last FNTF official entry was numbered Pt. 33 (The Comfort of Strangers.) What happened to pt. 34? Nada - pt. 34 just doubled as a Friday Night Film Noir entry; here it is. Phwew! Close call. Now on with the show.


The novel is structured as the transcript of a Navy tape recording made by sub Captain Edward J. Richardson recounting the events that led to his winning the Medal of Honor. His story takes the reader from the prewar days in Long Island Sound, where he and his XO Jim Bledsoe put training crews through their paces on the S-16, a WW1-era submarine retired from active service in 1924 but still suitable for readying crews for combat duty, to the Bungo Channel, that narrow strait separating the Japanese islands of Kyoshu and Shikoku, with all theaters (Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam) in-between. 

When Richardson is told his own chances for an active ship of his own hinge on recommending his XO for command duty, he puts Jim up for the job, but his reservations are justified when Jim flubs the training cruise, almost wrecking the S-16. This causes Richardson to withdraw his rec, leading to an estrangement in the two men's relationship. Adding to the tension: a love triangle with Laura, a woman who ends up marrying Jim. Jim is assigned as XO to Richardson's new sub, the Walrus, and tries to get transferred on account of his lack of confidence in the skipper/ his old friend, but Richardson tells him to pound sand. 

The Walrus goes off on patrol and quickly encounters the Japanese destroyer Akikaze, skippered by Captain Tateo Nakame, aka "Bungo Pete." The Akikaze is responsible for sinking a large number of American ships, including the Nerka, (remember that name) captained by Jim and Richardson's old friend, Stocker Kane. The Walrus duels with the Akikaze and Richardson is wounded. While he convalesces at Pearl Harbor, he helps the Navy figure out and fix the navy's innumerable and maddening torpedo problems, while Jim, newly in command of the Walrus, goes out on war patrols, eventually lost with all hands, another victim of Bungo Pete. 

"War rarely generates personal animosities between members of the opposing forces, for it is too big for that. The hate is there, but it is a larger hatred, a hatred for everything the enemy stands for, for all his professed ideals, for his very way of life. Individuals stand for nothing in this mammoth hate, and that is why friends - even members of the same family - can at times be on opposite sides, and why, after the fighting is over, it is possible to respect and even like the men who lately wished to kill you. Bungo, however, had done us personal injury, and had therefore lost his anonymity. We had learned to know him by his works and by his name; it didn't seem in the least strange to me that this time, this once, we should be consumed with bitter personal enmity towards a certain personality among the enemy. That this individual was only doing his duty as he saw it, as he had a right to see it, made not the slightest difference."

Richardson receives command of a new sub, the Eel, and convinces his superiors to let him hunt Bungo Pete. The novel ends with an all-out,-one-false-move battle between the Eel, the Akikaze, a Japanese sub, and the transport the Japanese are escorting, and Richardson pursues his grim duty to the bitter end, at no small cost to his peace of mind and combat equilibrium. An impossible rescue of some downed airmen off Guam restores his equilibrium, and it is this action which earns him the Medal of Honor.

Rotated back to the States after all the above, Jim is told by Stocker Kane's widow to look up Laura, the person with whom he was always meant to be. 

The End.

This is a hell of a great read if you're into this sort of thing. I'm a big fan of the criminally-hard-to-find Wake of the Wahoo by Forest J. Sterling (my copy is literally in tatters but the book remains stubbornly out of print), and Run Silent Run Deep is every bit as well-written, paced, and characterized as that one, but with the added details a former sub commander (as Edward Beach was) can bring to the proceedings. The science of torpedoes and of all the technology inside the submarine itself (from the carbon dioxide absorbers in hermetically sealed shiny metal canisters to the Torpedo Data Computer to everything else) is brought to life very agreeably.

"Eel maneuvered between the escort and his convoy. Four stern tubes at the tincan - close quarters, but there was time to get them off. He joined his ancestors in a cloud of mingled flame, smoke, and spray."


The film was well-received if not a box office bonanza. Like many of the WW2 films coming out in the late 50s, it benefited from greater transparency of how the war was actually fought (vs. earlier submarine films more properly classified as propaganda) and the technical advisory of the Navy, Department of Defense, and Flotilla One. The result was (for its time) not just the most realistic American submarine movie yet made but also an appropriate tribute to WW2 veterans of the Silent Service. The generation that went to the Pacific in subs probably appreciated the latter more than the former.

Like many an author seeing his work on screen, Beach was unhappy with the changes to his original story. Some of those changes include:

- The whole training sequence at the beginning is scrapped. In its place, Richardson was in charge of a previous sub, sunk by Akikaze

How he was rescued in the Bungo Strait is unexplained but hey. Motivation. 

- Subsequently, the whole Dekker/ Jim Kirk set-up from the book is altered, as Richardson is just a guy taking Jim Bledsoe's boat rather than the commanding officer of the same ship (the Walrus.)

From the first, Richardson comes off as valuing his pursuit of Bungo Pete over the safety of the ship and crew while Jim stands for the opposite, a change that definitely alters the book's character arcs for both.
This also eliminates the Jim/ Richardson/ Laura triangle. (Laura is only in one scene - and is married to Richardson from the get-go.)
Incidentally, Eel and Walrus are combined into one ship and renamed the Nekba. I wonder why?

- In the novel, Richardson and co. deduce that Akikaze (who has passed the info on to Tokyo Rose, from whose radio broadcasts they discover this) has been retrieving their garbage and learning important info on their crew. They then place decoy info in the garbage to confuse the Japs, and the success of this plays no small part in how things shake out. In the movie, it's Jim who figures this out, and there's no decoy garbage.

Listening to Tokyo Rose.

- In the novel, Richardson is injured in the first duel with Bungo Pete, and it is Jim's death at the Japanese destroyer captain's hands that motivates him to get back into action and exact his revenge. In the film, Richardson suffers a wound during action with Pete and, after valiantly carrying on as long as he can, hiding the extent of his wound, hands the ship over to Jim. 

Apparently this was at Clark Gable's insistence, lest his character come off as not sufficiently resolute.

- He rejoins the action when he realizes the secret to the Japanese success in sinking US subs is because they have their own sub deployed as a convoy escort. 

This sub is in the book, too, but the circumstances are rearranged. 

- Finally it's Richardson who dies, not Jim. 

Kind of a big one. 

While all of these changes certainly obliterate the character and plot dynamics Beach so carefully assembled, none of it is unreasonable novel-to-film transcription and compartmentalization. I don't blame the author for disagreeing. But when you consider some of the problems in adapting a work assembled for the page to one designed for the screen and you reverse engineer this finished product back to its source material, it seems to me they solved some issues neatly (such as Richardson's convalescence in Hawaii while Jim dies out on patrol, setting up his taking over the Eel and the violence of the ending - almost certainly unfilmable in the 50s) and built up or flat-out created some other dynamics to compensate (such as the tension between Jim's ensigns and Richardson's yeoman.) 


Clark Gable as Commander Richardson.
Burt Lancaster as Lt. Commander Jim Bledsoe.
Jack Warden as Yeoman FC Mueller.
Don Rickles as Quartermaster FC Ruby.
Brad Dexter as Ensign Cartwright.
Nick Cravat as Russo.
Joe Maross as Kohler.
And Ken Lynch as Frank.
Not sure who this lady is, but she gets a lot of screentime. The crew has a ritual of spanking the poster when called to stations. Draw your own conclusions.

You can enjoy a mash-up of scenes from the movie set to the Iron Maiden song of the same name here. Enjoy.