Down Periscope

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Down Periscope
Down periscope.jpg
Directed by David S. Ward
Produced by Robert Lawrence (producer)
Screenplay by Hugh Wilson
Andrew Kurtzman
Eliot Wald
Story by Hugh Wilson
Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography Victor Hammer
Edited by William M. Anderson
Armen Minasian
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
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 American comedy film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Robert Lawrence, directed by David S. Ward, that stars Kelsey Grammer, Lauren Holly, and Rob Schneider and co-stars Bruce Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, William H. Macy and Rip Torn.

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge fights to save his naval career while also being saddled with a group of misfit seamen brought together as the crew of his first command, the USS Stingray, a rusted and obsolete World War II-era diesel submarine recommissioned to participate in a special naval war-game.


Lt. Commander Thomas Dodge (Kelsey Grammer) is about to be passed over a third time for command of his own nuclear submarine because of his unorthodox methods, an unfortunate incident involving ramming a Russian submarine off Murmansk, and the rumor of a genital tattoo ("Welcome Aboard!") received after the Murmansk incident and getting blind drunk while on shore leave. Failure to secure a submarine will result in Dodge being dropped from the Navy's command program, and that means he will resign from the Navy.

During his career, Tom Dodge has made an enemy of Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern), who strongly speaks out against Dodge's promotion. Vice-Admiral Dean Winslow, ComSubLant (Rip Torn), on the other hand, likes Dodge and his unorthodox methods. A war game is planned to test the Navy's defenses against possible attack from older Soviet diesel-powered submarines in the hands of America's enemies. Among the defenses that are being tested is Dodge's prior billet, the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Orlando. Dodge is selected to put the World War II-era Balao-class diesel sub USS Stingray, SS-161, back in commission as the war game's Opposing Force. Winslow tells him to "think like a pirate," promising Dodge that if he can sink a target ship placed in Norfolk Harbor, Dodge will be considered for a permanent command.

Motivated by his dislike for Dodge and his own ambition for promotion, Graham handpicks a "crew from hell" for Stingray: hot-tempered, uptight Lt. Martin Pascal (Rob Schneider) as the Executive Officer; crusty Chief Engineer Howard (Harry Dean Stanton), a civilian contractor familiar with the obsolete Balao-class's diesel-electric engine system; rebellious Engineman 1st Class Brad Stepanek (Bradford Tatum); sharp-eared Sonarman 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli (Harland Williams); compulsive gambler Seaman Stanley "Spots" Sylvesterson (Jonathan Penner); former college basketball player Seaman Jefferson "R.J." Jackson (Duane Martin), who has dreams of playing in the NBA; shock-prone (and shock-addled) Electrician's Mate Nitro (Toby Huss); and not-so-culinary Culinary Specialist Second Class Buckman (Ken Hudson Campbell) as Stingray's cook.

Graham also uses Stingray as a Navy pilot program to evaluate women serving on submarines, knowing the cramped diesel boat is unsuitable for mixed-gender living. Surface Warfare Officer Lt. Emily Lake (Lauren Holly) joins the crew as Diving Officer.

Using unorthodox tactics and a major storm to offset their huge technological disadvantage, Dodge and his crew achieve their first objective by sneaking in to Charleston Harbor and setting off signal flares. Now desperate to defeat Dodge, Graham cuts the war game containment area in half without Winslow's authorization.

Failing in their first attempt at Norfolk Harbor, Dodge leaves the reduced containment area and heads out to sea. Irate at this lapse in protocol, the always strident and by-the-book Pascal (for whom the crew has no respect) attempts to take command of the Stingray; the crew does not supports his action. Dodge then charges Pascal with mutiny and, in mock-pirate fashion (to the delight of the crew), forces his blindfolded XO to "walk the plank". Doing so lands Pascal in the raised fishing net of a waiting trawler that will take him ashore.

During Stingray's second attempt at Norfolk, Graham assumes personal control of Orlando. Dodge employs an incredibly dangerous maneuver to sneak past the ships and aircraft protecting Norfolk. Orlando is eventually able to locate and chase her down. Before the Orlando's shooting solution is obtained, Dodge is able to fire two live torpedoes at long range into the anchored target ship at Norfolk, winning the war game for Stingray.

Upon his return to port, Admiral Winslow chastises Graham and denies his promotion. He welcomes Dodge back and informs him that he will not get his own Los Angeles-class submarine, as the two had previously discussed. Instead, he will command a new Seawolf-class submarine (the US Navy's most advanced attack submarines), plus a proper crew to man her. Dodge respectfully requests that his entire Stingray crew be transferred with him to his new command, and then dismisses his crew to begin a well-earned shore leave. As Dodge and Lake leave the dock, she poses a query to him now that they better know each other: "What exactly is this 'tattoo' I keep hearing about?".


Production notes[edit]

The name of the film is a play on the title of the 1959 World War II drama Up Periscope and spoofs several titles in the submarine film subgenre, including Cold War drama The Hunt for Red October.[3]

Down Periscope began shooting on May 6, 1995 and finished on July 27.[4]

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 US Navy stock footage as well as scenes shot specifically for the film. The scenes of the fictional USS Orlando were taken of the USS Springfield, home-ported 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 film's war-game, is both naval stock footage of the USS Fletcher and a prop shooting miniature. The Fletcher is one of the most decorated ships in US Navy history.

Over the closing credits a music video is shown of the Village People and the film's cast performing "In the Navy" aboard the Stingray.


Down Periscope had its US theatrical release on March 1, 1996.[4] The film grossed $25,785,603 domestically and $37,553,752 worldwide; it currently sits at the position of 2,315 for all-time domestic gross.[citation needed] The film was released five months later on home video on August 6, 1996.[4]


Critical reception was generally negative; the film holds a 12% positive rating from the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[6] Despite this, the film has been called an accurate depiction of life on board a submarine by a US Navy submarine officer.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Down Periscope | PowerGrid". 1996-03-01. Retrieved 2015-07-14. 
  2. ^ Down Periscope at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Chapman, James. War and Film. Reaktion Books, 2008, p. 229.
  4. ^ a b c 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
  7. ^ 7/02/15 9:56am (2015-06-30). "Confessions Of A U.S. Navy Submarine Officer". Retrieved 2015-07-14. 

External links[edit]