Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Most wartime combat films were fairly cheap affairs; yet each major studio turned out a few expensive
Technicolor epics that were eagerly attended. Theaters in big industrial towns operated around-the-clock
to entertain workers working triple-shifts. You can almost see Goebbels eagerly snatching up captured
Allied films to see in Berlin - and becoming depressed to see that in the midst of Wartime shortages,
America could put
out lavish entertainments like this. Perhaps these wartime morale boosters helped win the war in a
backwards way: Goebbles fancied himself a postwar movie mogul and wasted a lot of scarce Nazi
resources making his own color blockbusters like Baron Munchausen.
Crash Dive is a trifle with a generic script - two Navy pals fall for the same girl and have to
work out their differences in combat. It's more notable as Tyrone Power's last star vehicle
before heading out to join the Marines, and for its ambitious, Oscar winning special effects.
Lt. Ward Stewart (Tyrone Power) is upset when the Navy pulls him from P.T. boats for
submarine duty, but his prospects brighten when he gets a chance to chase schoolteacher Jean Hewlett
(Anne Baxter) on a jaunt to Washington. The trouble is, she's almost engaged to Ward's skipper, Lt.
Commander Dewey Connors (Dana Andrews). This puts some understandable tension into their mission:
to destroy the arctic base for the Nazi's nasty "Q Ships," neutral freighters with hidden guns
that ambush allied warships unawares.
Critics usually blanche at the lame romantic triangle that clutters up this Navy saga, but
Crash Dive needs to be watched for what it is, feel-good propaganda for the war effort. Dashing
Tyrone depth-charges Nazi subs and rescues civilian shipwreck survivors with an ever-present smile.
He thinks nothing of running down to Washington and scamming his way in and out of precious hotel
Submarine patrols are swift cruises that always result in success, and they're so pleasantly brief
that we see little beyond the action on the bridge: "Fire torpedoes!"
Crash Dive plays as if it were chosen by Fox to convey a bunch of messages devised by whole
committees of propagandists. Ward and Dewey eat a huge lunch of
fresh vegetables and fruit, almost as if somebody wanted the Nazis to know that there were no
shortages on the Yank home front. Nobody drinks liquor, but both heroes down glass-fuls of milk and
keep asking for more Moo juice, just like Timmy on the old Lassie TV show. Did the Dairy
industry demand a plug?
The most interesting detail is the character of Oliver Cromwell Jones, played by black actor Ben
Carter. He's given equal emphasis with second-string hero James Gleason. Besides working as a cook,
Jones concerns himself with the older sailor's health, and goes along on the climactic commando raid.
The "joke" that he doesn't need to blacken his face for the raid is actually played down, and Carter isn't
made to do any Stepin Fetchit-type humor either. He actually stands next to the officers on the bridge
when they pull into port. Obviously the token Jones character was being used to assure blacks
that their contribution to the war effort was appreciated, when the discrimination in real life was
shockingly brutal. In other films Carter played bellboys and valets, and he died just three years later.
Anne Baxter has a lot more baby fat than in her later
All About Eve days and is fine in a
very slight and undemanding role built on a stack of lame coincidences. Her racy
scene in a lower Pullman berth is fun, though. Responsible Dana Andrews gives up his girl without
a fight, as if conceding to Tyrone Power's top billing. There's a war to fight, you know. Dame
May Whitty steps in for some forgettable family business.
The special effects are excellent, a big improvement over some of Fox's other war films. Fred Sersen
cleverly uses superimpositions to place live action human figures into miniature settings, a tough
trick in technicolor. Mattes, models and explosions all add up to what in 1943 was a spectacular
ending. Some of the daytime process work back in Connecticut is iffy, but the excitement and design
of the nighttime battle at the arctic base is excellent. Even the gimmicky bit where Dana Andrews
rides the damaged sub and guides it out of the harbor plays well. Stockshots from Crash Dive
were used in
When Worlds Collide; some angles in
Sam Fuller's Hell and High Water look similar and may be Crash Dive cuts allowed to
"stretch out" for the CinemaScope action picture.
1943 audiences got their money's worth and Crash Dive was a big hit. It's a movie that's
hard to dislike and easy to forget.
Fox's DVD of Crash Dive looks stunning in color, with few if any Technicolor flaws and not
much grain either. The soundtrack of Navy standards plays fine. I've never seen this one in a theater
so this was my first good look at the movie's fine special effects work. The only negative observation
I can make applies to a lot of Technicolor Fox discs: image enhancement occasionally makes it look
as though Anne Baxter is missing a tooth or two.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Crash Dive rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 5, 2004
1. Ward said he had "personal
business" to take care of in D.C., but all we see him do is chase Anne Baxter's skirt. What did he
go down there for in the first place?
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson