Gray Lady Down (1978)

Captain Paul Blanchard, played by Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes) is returning home. A seasoned Submarine Captain, Blanchard is looking forward to a promotion and life above the surface. When tragedy strikes in the form of a freak collision on the high seas, Blanchard and the crew find their vessel crippled and sinking to the ocean floor.

The submarine has lost its engine room due to flooding caused by the accident and no longer has propulsion, leaving the submarine at the mercy of gravity. Certain death awaits them all and the tensions of the men aboard is clearly evident as they await their fate; until they land on an ocean shelf, briefly providing respite from the black depths below them.

A daring rescue attempt is launched by the United States Navy, lead by Captain Hal Bennett, played by Stacy Keach (American History X, Raw Justice).

Circumstance conspires to ensure that this is no simple rescue attempt and the clock is ticking. As the elements hold potential rescuers at bay the claustrophobic environment of the submarine takes its toll on the crew as time and oxygen is running out. The hopelessness of the crew can be felt throughout as many onboard start to accept the inevitable death that awaits them. The submariners torn between a death of suffocation or being crushed under the weight of the water around them. The cold indifference of the very environment is a worthwhile foe and it seems that maybe the heroism of those dying stoically will be the legacy of the men in peril.

Further events push the stricken vessel closer to destruction and by now it has become obvious as some men become reflective and others fearful as their time runs out. A last gasp effort is made by a flawed Captain is launched, Captain Don Gates, played by David Carradine (Kung Fu, Kill Bill). The narrative becomes painfully clear that the unpopular Gates is the last hope of those trapped aboard the submarine, 1400 feet below them.

Directed by David Greene (I Start Counting, Hard Country) this film encapsulates the terror and hopelessness experienced by those that are trapped and those that are trying to execute the rescue. Detailing throughout that nothing can be planned to perfection and sometimes it is those things that we have no control over that can be the most devastating of all. The crew aboard the submarine lead by Captain Blanchard is one off the best and most able crews; as is the team lead by Captain Bennett above them, a crew we are advised is the best suited for the rescue mission.

The emotions that rum through range from hope, to dread and to resignation for the inevitable and these emotions are what compel the narrative. The viewer is forced to accept that maybe not everything can proceed as planned and the emotions rendered by the condemned crew increase the drama unfolding. Just when it seems that one problem is overcome, nature itself poses further threats to the safety of the sunken submarine and to those attempting an already dangerous rescue attempt. combined with superb dramatic and emotional delivery is the environmental changes; from the uncomfortable and cramped conditions inside the submarine to the vast isolation of the high seas. Each scene provides its own world as both parties involved strive to avoid the impending tragedy.

By the time the film reaches the finale, viewers will have experienced every possible emotion from empathizing with the crew to commiserating with the rescue efforts and holding their breath as nature seems determined the claim the submarine for herself. It is impossible not to enjoy this film simply as it achieves what it intended with style and drama and unrivaled suspense.