While this is not a film that has specific comedic elements, James Garner seems to be the perfect choice to play this role. Up until this point in his career, almost every role that Garner had fulfilled on the big screen had been that of a soldier. Now, halfway through his TV stint as Maverick, he returns to the silver screen to bank on his new popularity as the star of a unique war film.
When I come across movies like this one, I think of films like Behind Enemy Lines and Spy Games; ente…taining and slightly above average films that will sadly not be remembered as time marches on. The fact is, only the best of the best films stand the test of time, while there are plenty of perfectly entertaining, well made films that just fade away from our collective consciousness.
What makes this film stand out from the innumerable war movies of the era is that it is a submarine picture. Submarine films are a unique sort with unique problems. How do you keep an audience entertained with a bunch of men keeping quiet in the same dark cramped space for two hours? The German classic Das Boot solved that riddle by highlighting the problems, eventually making the viewer feel like they were trapped on the boat with the men. Up Periscope! avoids the pitfalls of the genre in two ways. First, the film is presented in an amazing 2.35:1 widescreen format called Warnerscope. This super-wide format keeps the viewer from feeling closed in by their surroundings. The other device employed is to make Garner’s character an underwater demolitions expert. That way, instead of being trapped in a submarine for two hours, the film is built around Garner’s preparation to get out of the submarine and go on his land-based mission alone.
This is a film that is surprisingly engrossing even today, despite the fact that it is geared so specifically to its place in history. Garner is great, and it’s fun to see both Alan Hale and Frank Gifford in roles outside of their norm. Up Periscope! is a masterfully-made film that is well worth visiting again on DVD.
The film is presented in the original Mono format, but it is a wonderful Mono. Some nice deep bass tones are present, but they never sound muddled or overly oppressive. Dialog sounds great, clean and clear, while still taking on the appropriate echoes that go along with talking inside a big tin can. The score is thoughtfully crafted, and it’s sparseness is surprisingly modern. All told, this is one of the best mono audio tracks that I have ever heard on disc.
I spoke a little about the great video quality before. With an image this wide, the challenge with an older film is to make sure that all parts of that image are as clean as they can be. I have not seen any information that indicates this film has been remastered, which is really surprising to me. This disc looks fantastic, with no problems with grain, dust or scratches at all. Somebody somewhere took special care of the original master print for this film. Black levels have not faded over time, and the colors even look natural; a rarity for films made in the 50’s. This is an excellent transfer that will not disappoint.
Sadly, the only extra is a theatrical trailer. This is a film that deserves much more in the way of extra content. I would have loved to have seen James Garner discuss his time on this shoot. It would also have been nice to hear him talk about how his work fit in with his commitments on Maverick. Surely he would have agreed to sit for a few hours to boost the likelihood of higher DVD sales.
Man, I really wish this disc was packed with extras. In fact, I even think this would have made a great double-disc release. The film is tense and dramatic, and the audio and video are first rate. Warner has done a great job with this disc, from the quality of the film to using the original theatrical one sheet for the box cover. I suppose the movie would have to be more popular before WB would go out on a limb with a two-disc investment. I just wish that were the case. Still, what is here is first rate, and I have no problem recommending this to World War II or submarine film fans sight unseen.
Special Features List
- Theatrical Trailer