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Movie Review: Up Periscope

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When I first saw that a movie called Up Periscope had just been released on DVD, I assumed a "special edition" DVD of that Kelsey Grammer submarine movie had been issued. Actually, Up Periscope is a 1959 WWII drama starring James Garner as a Navy frogman being transported to a secret mission on a sub, the USS Barracuda. Along the way, he clashes with a stern, by-the-book captain played by prolific character actor Edmond O'Brien.

Up Periscope is old-fashioned and cliched but it's quite entertaining. After a slow start, director Gordon Douglas (who made 97 movies, including Them! and In Like Flint, in a career spanning five decades) gets things moving at a pretty good pace, and the action scenes – especially a couple of encounters with Japanese fighters – are well done.

Garner, in one of his first starring roles, is as charming as ever – and one of his colleagues aboard the Barracuda is played by none other than Alan Hale, presumably warming up for a much more famous nautical role on television a few years later. The rest of the crew, including the token African-American cook and the guy driven crazy by the pressure, is never given the chance to make much of an impression.

The special effects footage won't make anyone forget The Hunt for Red October, but it's pretty good for the time — although the use of stock footage during many of the battle scenes is jarring. (Presumably, the producers couldn't dig up decent color footage of a Japanese destroyer sinking – which is why the guy looking through the periscope inexplicably sees the whole thing in black-and-white.) Up Periscope's biggest drawback is probably the love story introduced early on, with Garner falling for a woman secretly sent by the Navy to test his fitness to sneak behind Japanese lines. After the first twenty minutes, it's pretty much ignored until the end of the film, leaving the viewer to wonder what that was all about.

Except for a couple of scenes in which the color fades and flickers, the film looks terrific on DVD. Too bad Warner couldn't have thrown in a few special features to go along with the theatrical trailer. When the Kelsey Grammer movie (Down Periscope) is eventually re-released, I hope that includes more extras.

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