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 dates
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 20th Century Fox comedy film produced by Robert Lawrence and directed by David S. Ward, starring Kelsey Grammer, Lauren Holly and Rob Schneider and co-starring 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, a rusted but recommissioned WWII-era diesel submarine, the USS Stingray, set to participate in a special naval war-game.


Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge (Kelsey Grammer), a capable yet somewhat unorthodox U.S. Navy submariner, is about to be passed over a third time for command of his own nuclear submarine; this because of his unconventional ways and because of a notorious genital tattoo he received while drunk while rated as an ensign. Failure to secure a command will result in Dodge being dropped from the Navy's command program and an assignment to a desk job, and that means he'll resign from the Navy. During his career, Dodge has made an enemy of Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern), who strongly speaks out against Dodge's command promotion.

Vice Admiral Dean Winslow (Rip Torn), who likes Dodge and his methods, finds the perfect use for the Lt. Commander: Winslow launches a war-game to test the Navy's defenses against possible attack by old diesel-powered submarines in the hands of US enemies. Among those defenses being tested is the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Orlando, commanded by Commander Carl Knox (William H. Macy), Dodge's former CO. For this purpose, Dodge is selected to command 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 dummy target ship positioned in Norfolk harbor, Winslow will consider Dodge for command of a nuclear submarine.

Adm. Graham, however, motivated by his dislike for Dodge and his own ambition for promotion, arranges circumstances to make Dodge's mission much more difficult. Graham handpicks a motley crew for the Stingray consisting of rejects and misfits. When he first sees them, Dodge remarks, "It's the crew from Hell": hot-tempered and uptight Lieutenant Martin Pascal (Rob Schneider) as Executive Officer; crusty Chief Engineer Howard (Harry Dean 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 huge technological disadvantage, Dodge and the Stingray crew win their first objective by getting into and setting off signal flares in Charleston Harbor; Dodge has a Jolly Roger hoisted from the sub's conning tower in triumph. 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 always strident and by-the-book Pascal, for whom the crew has no respect, attempts to take command of the Stingray; none of the crew supports his action. Thus, Dodge considers this a case of mutiny by his Exec and, still "thinking like a pirate," crafts a humorous plan to get rid of Pascal: Further bonding with his crew over Pascal's "mutiny," Dodge makes his now blindfolded Exec walk the plank into a waiting fishing trawler's raised net; he then thanks the trawler's crew for their cooperation in getting Pascal ashore.

During the Stingray‍ '​s second attempt at Norfolk, Graham assumes personal command of the Orlando. Dodge uses an incredibly dangerous maneuver to sneak past the defenders of Norfolk, but the Stingray‍ '​s luck runs out and the Orlando is able to find and chase her down; however, Dodge has launched two live torpedoes into the anchored dummy ship at Norfolk, which gains Dodge and his crew the final war-game victory. Upon the Stingray‍ '​s return to port, Adm. Winslow welcomes Dodge back, noting "you certainly pushed my orders to the breaking point" and then confiding that Seamman Stapanek is actually his son "using his mother's name." The admiral then informs Dodge that he will not get his own Los Angeles-class submarine, as the two had previously discussed, but instead a new Seawolf-class submarine (the USN's most advanced), plus a proper crew to man her. Dodge declines this latter notion, requesting the transfer of his entire Stingray crew with him to his new command.

As the Stingray‍ '​s crew begins their shore leave, Lt. Emily Lake asks Dodge, "What's this tattoo I've heard so much 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] 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 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 low for Down Periscope; it holds a 12% positive rating from the film aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

That said, at least one US Navy Submariner considers it to be an accurate representation of life aboard a submarine [7]

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 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. ^

External links[edit]