The Bedford Incident

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The Bedford Incident
The bedford incident poster.JPG
theatrical poster
Directed by James B. Harris
Produced by James B. Harris
Richard Widmark
Screenplay by James Poe
Based on The Bedford Incident
1963 novel 
by Mark Rascovich
Starring Richard Widmark
Sidney Poitier
Music by Gerard Schurmann
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by John Jympson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 11 October 1965 (1965-10-11)
Running time
102 min
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English

The Bedford Incident is a 1965 Anglo-American Cold War film starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier, and co-produced by Richard Widmark. The cast also features Eric Portman, James MacArthur, Martin Balsam and Wally Cox, as well as early appearances by Donald Sutherland and Ed Bishop. The screenplay by James Poe is based on the 1963 book by Mark Rascovich. This in turn was patterned after Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; at one point in the film the captain is advised he is "not chasing whales now".[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

The film was directed by James B. Harris, who up to that time was best known as Stanley Kubrick's producer.


The American destroyer USS Bedford (DLG-113) detects a Soviet submarine in the GIUK gap near the Greenland coast. (Specifically, they are in Greenland territorial waters at the entrance to the J.C. Jacobsen Fjord, which is due northwest from Iceland.) Although the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are not at war, Captain Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark) harries his prey mercilessly, while civilian photojournalist Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier) and NATO naval advisor, Commodore (and ex-World War II U-boat captain) Wolfgang Schrepke (Eric Portman), look on with mounting alarm.

Because the submarine is not powered by a nuclear reactor, its submerged run distance is limited, critical when it also needs breathing air and to recharge its batteries. This gives Finlander an advantage, but also means the Soviets will be more desperate. Also aboard the ship are Ensign Ralston (James MacArthur), an inexperienced young officer constantly being criticized by his captain for small errors, and Lieutenant Commander Chester Potter, USNR (Martin Balsam), the ship's new doctor, who is a reservist recently recalled to active duty.

Munceford is aboard in order to photograph life on a navy destroyer, but his real interest is Captain Finlander, who was recently passed over for promotion to rear admiral. Munceford is curious whether a comment made by Finlander regarding the American intervention in Cuba is the reason for his non-promotion, perhaps betraying veiled aggression. He is treated with mounting hostility by the captain because he is seen as a civilian putting his nose where it does not belong and because he disagrees with Finlander's decision to continue with an unnecessary and dangerous confrontation. Finlander is hostile to anyone who is not involved in the hunt - including the doctor, who will not stand up to the captain and advise that the pressure on the crew be reduced.

The crew becomes increasingly fatigued by the unrelenting pursuit during which the captain demands full attention to the instruments. When the submarine is found and ignores Captain Finlander's demand to surface and identify itself, Finlander escalates the situation by smashing into the submarine's snorkel, calling it "floating debris". Finlander then orders Bedford to arm weapons and withdraw a distance, where he will wait for the submarine's crew to run out of air and be forced to surface. He reassures Munceford and Schrepke that he is in command of the situation and that he will not fire first, but: "If he fires one, I'll fire one."

Ensign Ralston mistakes Finlander's remark as an order to "fire one" and launches an anti-submarine rocket, which destroys the submarine. Their sonar then detects a salvo of four nuclear-armed torpedoes coming at the destroyer. Finlander initially gives basic orders to evade, then goes outside. Munceford follows him, frantically pleading, but Finlander does nothing more to save his ship, perhaps because he recognizes that there is no way to escape and believes that it's justice that his ship be lost, since his own actions brought about the unnecessary destruction of the submarine and crew. The film ends with still shots of various crewmen "melting" as if the celluloid film were burning as Bedford and her crew are vaporized. The last image is an iconic, towering mushroom cloud from the torpedo detonations.




The screenplay by James Poe follows the novel fairly closely. However, Poe wrote a completely different ending for the film. In the novel, the Soviet submarine does not fire back at Bedford before being destroyed. The shocked Finlander then receives word of his promotion to admiral. Commodore Schrepke, realizing the catastrophic consequences once the events are known, sabotages one of the remaining ASROCs and destroys the ship. Munceford, the sole survivor, is found by Novosibirsk, the submarine's mothership. Unlike the book, the film version ends with the vessels being destroyed by one another.

The plot reflects several actual Cold War incidents of tense stand-offs between NATO and Soviet navies, including one in 1957 when a US submarine was caught in Soviet waters, and chased out to sea by Soviet warships. Although none ended as catastrophically as the Bedford incident, the story illustrated many of the fears current at the time.

Similar plot devices have been used in later submarine based films, including Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October.


The Bedford Incident was mostly filmed at Shepperton Studios in Britain, although some shots at sea were used. "USS Bedford" was a fictitious guided missile destroyer, and the role of Bedford was mostly played by a large model of a Farragut-class destroyer. Interior scenes were filmed in the British Type 15 frigate HMS Troubridge; British military equipment can be seen in several shots, including a rack of Lee-Enfield rifles, and Troubridge's novel forward-sloping bridge windows. Sidney Poitier's initial flypast and landing from a Whirlwind helicopter were filmed aboard another Type 15 frigate, HMS Wakeful, whose F159 pennant number is clearly visible.

The vessel portraying a Soviet intelligence ship has the name "Novo Sibursk," written on the hull at the bow in the Roman alphabet, not the Russian language's Cyrillic alphabet. "Novosibirsk" is a more accurate English rendering.

Historical parallels[edit]

The film's plot resembles a real-life incident during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when a Soviet submarine B-59 was forced to surface. Unknown to the American destroyers hunting B-59, it carried a nuclear torpedo, and the captain, thinking he was under attack and that World War III might be going on up on the surface, considered using his weapon. Unlike in the film, where Finlander knew the submarine carried a nuclear torpedo, the presence of one on B-59 was unknown to most people until decades later.


  1. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "The Bedford Incident (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Fuller, Karla Rae. "The Bedford Incident (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Freedman, Peter. "The Bedford Incident". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Bedford Incident | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes ..". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Clark, Graeme. "Bedford Incident, The Review (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 

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