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Crash Dive

Crash Dive
Fox Home Entertainment
1943 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 106 min. / Street Date May 25, 2004 / 14.98
Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, James Gleason, Dame May Whitty, Harry Morgan, Ben Carter
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Art Direction Richard Day, Wiard Ihnen
Film Editor Ray Curtiss, Walter Thompson
Original Music David Buttolph
Written by Jo Swerling from a story by W.R. Burnett
Produced by Milton Sperling
Directed by Archie Mayo

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 rooms. 1 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:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer
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

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