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Up Periscope

Memorial Day weekend is a great time to revisit war films, remembering the sacrifices of those that have fought and died for our country. 1959’s UP PERISCOPE is a really enjoyable war genre entry, loaded with suspense and cliches that enjoyably frame it’s mission.

James Garner, hot off his starring role as TV’s ‘Maverick”, effortlessly carries the film as Navy Lieutenant Ken Braden. An underwater demolition expert, Braden is chosen to lead a crucial and dangerous mission to a Japanese island.

Once there, Braden is to steal Japanese transmission codes without letting them know he’s been there. The mission is even trickier as the submarine delivering Braden can’t get very close to shore, leaving him with a ticking clock and a hell of a lot of danger for the mission that takes up the last 40 minutes of the film’s running time.

The first half of the film introduces us to Braden, the girl he’s barely met but madly in love with and the entire submarine crew assigned to get him to the island.

Edmond O’Brien (Fantastic Voyage, The Wild Bunch) is strong as the sub’s by-the-book commander Stevenson. Driving his crew to the point of exhaustion, he appears to be an emotionless leader, but still waters run deep.

Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper from ‘Gilligan’s Island’) damn near steals the film as Lt Pat Malone, the rambunctious crew leader anxious to get back to the Hawaiian girls on shore. Watch close for Frank Gifford and Edd Byrnes as members of the sub crew. Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) made his film debut here as well.

With plenty of Garner’s humor and charm thrown in the mix, the film’s a near perfect mix of light adventure, real suspense and war time drama. The claustrophobia of a sub running low on oxygen as they wait for Braden to get back from his mission is palpable.

From the time the sub enters the Japanese lagoon and Garner swims out of a hatch on his mission, the film hits it’s stride. The entire sequence is mostly silent other than ambient noise. The tension builds and it’s edge-of-your-seat enjoyment.

Director Gordon Douglas knows his way around a crowd pleaser, having directed Sinatra’s Tony Rome films, James Coburn’s “In Like Flint” and the Rat Pack’s “Robin and the 7 Hoods”.

Pure popcorn, flag waving patriotism and well done escapism, UP PERISCOPE gets an enjoyable, Memorial Day Weekend B.

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