Hellcats of the Navy

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Hellcats of the Navy
Hellcats of the navy poster.jpg
Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by David Lang
Raymond Marcus
Bernard Gordon
Based on Hellcats of the Sea
1955 novel 
by Charles A. Lockwood
Hans Christian Adamson
Starring Ronald Reagan
Nancy Davis
Arthur Franz
William Leslie
William Phillips
Harry Lauter
Michael Garth
Joe Turkel
Don Keefer
Selmer Jackson
Maurice Manson
Robert Arthur
Max Showalter
Music by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cinematography Irving Lipman
Edited by Jerome Thoms
Production
company
Morningside Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • May 1957 (1957-05)
Running time
82 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Hellcats of the Navy is a 1957 black-and-white World War II submarine film drama from Columbia Pictures, produced by Charles H. Schneer and directed by Nathan Juran. The film stars future US President Ronald Reagan and his wife, billed under her screen name Nancy Davis, and Arthur Franz. Married since 1952, this was the only feature film in which the Reagans acted together.

The film's storyline concerns Commander Casey Abbott, captain the submarine USS Starfish, being ordered to retrieve a new type of Japanese mine in the waters off the Asiatic mainland. When diver Wes Barton, Abbott's competitor for the affections of Nurse Lieutenant Helen Blair, gets into a life-threatening situation, Abbott must keep his personal and professional lives separate when dealing with the crisis.

The film story is based on the non-fiction book Hellcats of the Sea by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood and Hans Christian Adamson.

Plot[edit]

Commander Casey Abbott (Ronald Reagan), commander of the U. S. submarine USS Starfish, is ordered to undertake a dangerous mission which sees him attempting to cut off the flow of supplies between China and Japan in the heavily mined waters off the Asiatic mainland. When a diver, who is Abbott's competitor for the affections of Nurse Lieutenant Helen Blair (Nancy Davis) back at home, gets into a dangerous situation, Abbott must struggle to keep his personal and professional lives separate in dealing with the crisis.

The results arouse ill feelings in the crew and especially Abbott's executive officer Lt. Commander Landon (Arthur Franz) who asks his captain to let him air his views in confidence. The results lead Abbott to write in Landon's efficiency report that he should never be given command of a naval vessel, resulting in further ill feeling between the two.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz endorsed the film on screen at its start and later played in the plot by actor Selmer Jackson.[1] Reagan noted in his autobiography that he was disappointed in the film, overall, having expected a result more like Destination Tokyo, a major Warner Bros. film from the previous decade. The diminishing status of the feature films Reagan was being offered led to his leaving the big screen.

The United States Navy provided extensive cooperation by allowing portions of the film to be shot at Naval Base San Diego and aboard an actual U. S. submarine, possibly the USS Besugo. The executive officer of the submarine was Lloyd Bucher, who would go on and commanded the USS Pueblo during its capture by North Korea in 1968.[2]

During the production of the film, as the USS Besugo was about to get underway, an argument ensued between the director and one of the unions. It must also be noted that it was difficult for a submarine tied up in San Diego to get underway while a tide was running, so there was only a short window of opportunity to maneuver the boat away from the pier. Besugo was one of the first submarines to employ nylon rope lines, and when stretched, they could get about "as big around as a pencil" and become lethal if they break under strain. In the meantime the order was given to the helmsman to answer all bells. Reagan happened to take this opportunity to practice his dialog lines on deck, hollering out, "Ahead one third, starboard back full..." About this time, the nylon ropes were stretched to their breaking point when one of the officers gave the command, "All stop, ALL STOP, Goddammit, ALL STOP!" and Reagan, totally oblivious to what was going on, continued to practice his lines, rocking back and forth on his feet with his hands behind his back... as if nothing were wrong.[citation needed]

Among the stock music used in the film were excerpts from The Caine Mutiny March composed by Max Steiner, the main title theme for the 1954 Columbia Pictures feature film, The Caine Mutiny. The film was also about WWII U. S. Navy operations in the Pacific Theater; Arthur Franz appears as well in the minor role of Lt. (jg) Paynter.[3][4]

Film premiere[edit]

Hellcats of the Navy had its official premiere in San Diego, CA at the downtown Spreckels Theater. The film's stars were in attendance, as were locally stationed U. S. Navy brass and submariners. A program preceded the showing of the film. On a flatbed trailer in front of the theater were displayed one Mark 14 and one Mark 16 torpedo, the two types used by navy submarines during World War II.[citation needed]

DVD reviews[edit]

Glenn Erickson of DVD Talk reviewed the DVD release of Hellcats of the Navy and thought that although the direction was "competent", the script was "completely derivative and cornball". He went on to criticize the lack of realistic supporting characters and the film's use of obvious stock footage, especially that of a U. S. Navy patrol boat portraying a Japanese ship. Overall, he described the film itself as "fair".[1] David Krauss of Digitally Obsessed described the production values as "bargain basement" and found that the cast's stiff performances alienated viewers. He gave the film a C for style and a B- for substance, although he also described the direction as "dry as a military briefing on CNN".[5]

Erick Harper at DVD Verdict thought that Hellcats followed a series of submarine war film clichés, like the "love triangle" and familiar elements of the action sequences. Parts of the film were compared to Star Trek, in that it followed a standard Hollywood formula for its plot. He described Ronald Reagan as "comfortable" and "believable",[6] and said that the film was "worth checking out for the historical value, if nothing else".[6]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Erickson, Glenn (3 May 2003). "DVD Savant Review: Hellcats of the Navy". DVD Talk. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  2. ^ p.44 Skinner, Kiron K.; Anderson, Annelise & Anderson, Martin Reagan: A Life In Letters Simon and Schuster, 29/11/2004
  3. ^ Max Steiner (credits) IMDb
  4. ^ The Caine Mutiny Cast and Crew IMDb
  5. ^ Krauss, David (2 July 2003). "Hellcats of the Navy (1957)". Digitally Obsessed. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Harper, Erick (18 June 2003). "Hellcats of the Navy". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Hellcats of the Sea: Operation Barney and the Mission to the Sea of Japan, by Charles Lockwood, Hans Adamson". Goodreads. Retrieved 2015-08-21. Hellcats of the Sea, first published in 1955, recounts the activities of the U.S. Navy's Pacific submarine fleet in World War Two. Much of the book details Operation Barney the secret mission to bring the war closer to the islands of Japan, as the war had never extended to the Sea of Japan. 

External links[edit]