Down Periscope

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Down Periscope
Down periscope.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David S. Ward
Produced by Robert Lawrence
Screenplay by Hugh Wilson
Andrew Kurtzman
Eliot Wald
Story by Hugh Wilson
Starring Kelsey Grammer
Lauren Holly
Rob Schneider
Harry Dean Stanton
Bruce Dern
William H. Macy
Rip Torn
Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography Victor Hammer
Edited by William M. Anderson
Armen Minasian
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) March 1, 1996
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million[1]
Box office $37,553,752[2]

Down Periscope is a 1996 comedy film starring Kelsey Grammer as the captain of a rust-bucket Navy submarine, the USS Stingray, who is fighting for his career as he is saddled with a group of misfit seamen.

David S. Ward directed the film. Lauren Holly and Rob Schneider co-star as officers on the sub. Also featured are Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, William H. Macy and Rip Torn.

The name of the film is a play on the 1959 World War II drama Up Periscope and spoofs several titles in the genre of films about submarines including Cold War drama The Hunt for Red October.[3]


Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge (Kelsey Grammer), a capable yet unorthodox US Navy officer, is about to be denied command of his own submarine for a third time because of his unconventional ways, including a notorious tattoo. Failure to secure a command will result in him being dropped from the command program and an assignment to a desk job, and he is particularly opposed by Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern).

Vice Admiral Dean Winslow (Rip Torn) finds the perfect use for Dodge, however, when Winslow launches a war-game to test the Navy's defenses against possible attack by old diesel submarines in the hands of enemies of the US. Among those defenses being tested is the Navy's newest sub, the Los Angeles-class USS Orlando, which will be commanded by Commander Carl Knox, Dodge's former CO (William H. Macy). For this purpose, Dodge gains command of the rusty World War II era Balao-class diesel sub, the USS Stingray, SS-161. Adm. Winslow gives Dodge the order to "don't go by the book" and to "think like a pirate" and advises that if he can win the war-game, including sinking a mock target in Norfolk harbor, Winslow will consider Dodge for command of a nuclear submarine.

Adm. Graham, motivated by his dislike for Dodge and his own ambition, arranges circumstances to make Dodge's mission even more difficult. Graham handpicks a motley crew for the Stingray consisting of rejects and misfits: hot-tempered and uptight Lieutenant Martin Pascal (Rob Schneider) as Executive Officer; crusty Chief Engineer Howard (Stanton) (a civilian contractor hired for the job since no active Naval personnel is familiar with a Balao-class engine system); rebellious Engineman 1st Class Brad Stapanek (Bradford Tatum); sharp-eared Sonar Technician 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli (Harland Williams); compulsive gambler Seaman Stanley "Spots" Sylvesterson (Jonathan Penner); former U.S. Naval Academy basketball player Jefferson "R.J." Jackson (Duane Martin), who has dreams of playing in the NBA; shock-prone (and shock-addled) electrician Seaman Nitro (Toby Huss); and the not-so-culinary cook Seaman Buckman (Ken Hudson Campbell). To further frustrate Dodge, Graham also uses the Stingray to institute a pilot program by the Navy for evaluating the feasibility of women serving on submarines, knowing that the diesel boat is unsuitable for mixed-gender living; Lieutenant Emily Lake (Lauren Holly) joins the crew as Diving Officer.

Using unorthodox tactics to offset their technological disadvantage, Dodge and the Stingray crew win their first objective by getting into and setting off flares in Charleston Harbor. Desperate to defeat Dodge, Graham cuts the containment area for the war-game in half without authorization. Running into trouble on their first attempt at Norfolk harbor, Dodge leaves the exercise area. Irate at this lapse in protocol, the zealous by-the-book Pascal attempts to gain command of the Stingray, but no one in the crew supports him. Thus his attempt is considered mutiny and, literally thinking like a pirate, Dodge makes him walk the plank into a waiting fishing trawler's net.

During the Stingray's second attempt at Norfolk, Graham assumes personal command of the Orlando. After some risky maneuvers by the Stingray, the Orlando is able to chase her down and obtain a shooting solution, but not before Dodge launches two torpedoes into a target hulk, which gains him the victory. Upon the Stingray's return to port, Adm. Winslow congratulates Dodge on a job well done and confides that crewman Stapanek is his own son. The admiral informs Dodge that he will not get a Los Angeles-class submarine as the two had previously discussed, but instead a Seawolf-class submarine (then the USN's newest design), plus a "proper crew" along with it. Dodge turns down the latter notion, requesting to transfer the entire crew of the Stingray. The film closes with Dodge starting to explain his tattoo to Emily Lake.

Closing credits include a music video of the Village People and the film's cast performing "In the Navy".


Production and release[edit]

Down Periscope began shooting on May 6, 1995 and finished on July 27.[4] The USS Pampanito, a Balao-class submarine from World War II, now a museum ship and memorial in San Francisco, played the part of the USS Stingray. The nearby Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet played the part of Naval Station Norfolk.

The film makes use of both standard U.S.Navy footage as well as scenes filmed specifically for the movie. The shots of the fictional USS Orlando were taken of the USS Springfield, homeported at the New London Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut, during a one-day VIP cruise for the christening committee of the USS Seawolf.[5]

The target ship that is torpedoed and sunk, ending the war game, is footage of the USS Fletcher (DD-445), one of the most decorated ships in USN history.

Down Periscope had its US theatrical release on March 1, 1996, and was first released on home video five months later, on August 6.[4]


Critical reception was generally low for Down Periscope, holding a 13% positive rating on the film aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

Box Office[edit]

Down Periscope has grossed $25,785,603 domestically and $37,553,752 worldwide. It currently sits at 2,315 rank for all time domestic gross.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Down Periscope at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Chapman, James. War and Film. Reaktion Books, 2008, p. 229.
  4. ^ a b TCM Notes Misc. Notes
  5. ^ Personal recollection of James Covington, LT USN (Retired), CSO of USS Springfield from September 1994 to August 1997[verification needed]
  6. ^ Down Periscope at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]