Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Movie: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) movie day, a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. So don't forget to check in at Todd's to see what other movies other bloggers are posting about todayLink.

I guess I'm cheating a little, since THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER based on Tom Clancy's novel and directed by John McTiernan, can't really be termed a forgotten or overlooked film. Except I've met a lot of people who haven't seen it or if they have, don't recall. (How that's possible I just don't know.)

This is the sort of movie that when it turns up on TV, you stop what you're doing (even if you've seen it many times before), sit down and glue your eyes to the screen. There are movies which have this magical effect on us, RED OCTOBER is one of them. At least in my universe.

Admittedly I've loved this movie for years and couldn't believe it recently when someone in my own family told me they'd never seen it.


Anyway, here I am on this beautiful Spring morning, ready to refresh your memories, collective or otherwise.

I really do hate the idea that supposedly there are movies for men and movies for women.. For me there are only good movies or bad. It's a fairly simple concept but one that works for me. If I like it, it's an Yvette movie, if I don't like it, it's not an Yvette movie.

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is an Yvette movie. No ambiguity, I love it. There's no boy/girl. No romance -  except for the 'romance' of the open sea, or undersea as the case may be. But there are rugged men in uniform, crowded together in tight life threatening situations, dependent on each other's intelligence, strength of purpose, honor and good will. Works for me.

The fact that most of the men are reasonably attractive doesn't hurt either.

Add to that a heck of a good story fibrillating with tension and suspense and Sean Connery speaking Russian (with a slightly Scottish burr), and what more could you ask for? Not much,

The Plot:

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is set in the not so long ago days of the Cold War - when the Soviet Union and the United States routinely played 'chicken' on the high seas, the arms race was in high gear, each nation trying to one up the other - nuclear weapons-wise - all in the name of world peace. (Actually, it worked quite well since neither of us wound up destroying each other as so many sci-fi writers had predicted)

This is a multi-layered, mano-a-mano confrontation movie with all the subtlety of a hammer and tong. It's difficult to encapsulate the entire plot in just a few paragraphs, you know how Tom Clancy is - almost as wordy as me. Suffice to say there's lots of underwater sub-stuff going on, so don't blink or you might miss the next twist..

Anyway back to the story: lo and behold, to the dismay of the United States in the form of Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) researcher and analyst, the Russians appear to have created some new system that will allow a nuclear submarine to travel wherever it wants, whenever it wants - as silently as death. In other words, completely undetectable by radar. - no resonance, no trace, no engine sound, no nothing. This newly hatched sub could travel right up the coast of North America and unload its weapons under a cloak of technical invisibility..

Fortunately, this new submarine, the Red October has been placed in the hands of Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery in white hairpiece and spiffy beard). Ramius is a patriot, a man of honor, a hero,  but also a pragmatist who understands only too well what this new technology means, what his sub is capable of. Apparently he is also a man, the movie soon reveals, who wants none of it.

He and several of the top officers on the sub - men who have been brought up in the ranks, taught and influenced by Ramius, have hatched a plot to deliver the Red October into the hands of the Americans. They plan to defect with the submarine as their calling card. It is a grandiose plan but one worthy of Ramius's personality.

I'm not telling you anything you won't find out within the first half hour or so of the film. The tension and suspense build despite our knowing what's going on because the Americans (except for Jack Ryan who suspects early on) have no clue what Ramius is up to..

It's handy that Jack Ryan has read all of Captain Raimus books and has met him once at a government function years before. Ryan - in brainpower equally as brilliant as Ramius - seems to understand what might make the submarine commander tick. Obviously this is a very important thing to know since Raimus has hatched a  complex plan of subterfuge on board his own ship -  the crew is unaware that their Captain and officers are plotting to defect.

You do wonder how the men on board will be dealt with and when the thing unfolds you just shake your head with admiration. The crew are tricked into abandoning ship and left with the impression that Ramius and his officers are heroes worthy of the Lenin Cross. Incredible. Raimus has thought of everything. Almost.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

We learn that there is a spy on board the Soviet sub. Though the political officer is dealt with early on (every Soviet sub goes on a mission with a political officer in tow) in a particularly brutal way, the identity of the spy is unknown. Several of the officers soon become unrattled as events appear to spiral out of control, but Ramius is the calm center of the approaching storm. A man of iron will who expects instant obedience if not instant confidence. But he understands completely that if his men detect weakness or confusion in him, all is lost.

In the meantime, an American nuclear sub - captained by Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn), a laconic, straight-forward type - is on maneuvers on the ocean floor when their sonar detects some anomalies. One of the crew, Seaman Jones (Courtney Vance) has momentarily picked up the resonance of what he believes is another sub in the vicinity. But within seconds of his instruments having picked up the scent, the resonance disappears and the Red October passes by unnoticed. But thereafter, Seaman Jones keeps a careful eye on his instruments and Captain Mancuso files a report.

Let's back up a little, Jack Ryan has come across certain photos in his research - photos which he believes reveal that the Soviets have taken a giant step forward in the arms race. He flies to Washington to discuss his suspicions with the skeptical Pentagon brass. A submarine that leaves no trail, no wake, is a hard concept for them to swallow. But Ryan has had the photos checked by one of his expert friends and his suspicions have been confirmed.

James Earl Jones

He manages to convince the brass, helped along by another friend, Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), a Pentagon mucky-muck who instructs Ryan to take the lead in the investigation since there is no time to lose. Especially once Ryan finds out that an American sub might have recently bypassed the Red October on its journey. (Mancuso's report.) But just what is that journey? Far as the Americans are concerned, the sub is on its way to start WWIII.

However, Captain Ramius had previously sent a letter to a high-placed Soviet official stating his intentions (without the knowledge of his officers) - a kind of declaration of emancipation - proving, I suppose, that he's not a sneak, at least in his own mind.  Of course, the entire Soviet navy is immediately put on alert and Soviet subs join the hunt for Red October. The sub's new technology cannot be allowed to fall into American hands.

Joss Ackland

Soviet Ambassador Andrei Lysenko (the wonderful Joss Ackland) is given some cock and bull story to deliver to his American counterpart, Jeffrey Pelt, played sleazily and cunningly by the fabulous Richard Jordan. Lysenko regretfully tells Pelt that a Soviet submarine is missing -  apparently the captain has had a mental break down. The implication is clear - the Red October is headed for the American coast under the command of a crazed lunatic.

The U.S. offers to help the Soviets in their search. At first the Soviets refuse, but then are forced to accept when it becomes clear that Ramius has out-maneuvered them.

At the same time, Jack Ryan believes that Ramius might actually be defecting - that would account for much of what has happened. (Ryan is an 'outside the box' thinker.) What if Ramius - a Lithuanian by birth -  has decided to deliver this new technology to the Americans? The playing field would be level once again.

It's up to Ryan (who is multi-lingual) to convince the higher-ups to allow him to try and get in contact with Captain Ramius in whatever way possible.

To that end he is flown out to the middle of the ocean by helicopter (from a nearby war ship) to rendezvous with the American submarine with Captain Mancuso (Scott Glenn) at the helm.  This makes for a very exciting sequence as Ryan is dangled by the chopper over the sub in the middle of gale winds and rain.

Unfortunately, Captain Mancuso has just been radioed orders to seek and destroy the Red October.

Turns out that this helicopter incident is not in the book at all. I haven't read any Clancy, but I did learn that in the book Ryan and the submarine captains never meet. I suppose they communicate by radio and whatnot. But I think it makes more sense to have it happen as it does in the film.

Anyway, once Ryan is on board, things really heat up as the two subs meet within killing distance (Ramius has deactivated the new propulsion system). Psychology definitely comes into play, a hunch is played out, then another. Remember the old adage 'luck is the residue of chance'? Well, it comes into play here.

That's Sam Neil as Ramius's second in command.

There is a wonderful confrontation, sub to sub, captain to captain, Ryan to Ramius - then gunshots on board the Soviet sub. Oh and almost forgot, while all this is going on, there's a Soviet sub commandeered by Captain Viktor Topolev (Stellan Skarsgard) bearing down on the Red October with orders to blow it out of the water. As the missiles engage, you do wonder - what on earth can happen next?

You'll have to see the movie to find out. But I can almost guarantee you'll want to.

Another intriguing thing about THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, is how the language thing is worked out. There is some Russian spoken (with English subtitles) but then Ramius and his crew and other Soviets we see during the film, continue their conversations in English. We are meant to know that they are REALLY speaking Russian, but we can understand them. A nice trick.

In case I didn't make it clear, I love this movie, so don't miss it.

And no, Alec Baldwin is not nearly as annoying as he's proven to be in some of his other movies. (Though he is tailor-made for 30 Rock and all but steals that show.)


  1. Not an 'overlooked or forgotten movie' in our household! :-)

    Especially since my son found a DVD copy on Am&zon for part of my Mother's Day present a couple of weeks ago! This now replaces our old video copy - alas no video players for a long while here, anyway.

    I've read some of Tom Clancy's books and though they are wordy even to a 'female' mind there is just enough tech-speak to be authoritative without being like a workshop manual.

    HFRO has a stellar cast - including a younger and leaner Alec Baldwin which is good enough for me! Love it when he does a voice impression of Connery......

    Thanks for sharing, Yvette! :-)

  2. I LOVE this movie, and you are so right that it's the type of movie that if it comes on TV, I'd drop everything to watch it.

    I haven't seen it in a while, so I may have to remedy that soon.

  3. I also loved this movie, Yvette and have watched it quite a few times as my local Brooklyn Public Library has a DVD to borrow for free. I also love Sean Connery -- he was my favorite 007.

  4. Sue: It's so great to see that my women (blogging) friends love this movie as much as I do. What is it about this story that keeps us spellbound?

  5. Picky: there's a nice and cheap version of it selling at Amazon, if your library doesn't have it. I own it and just watched it the other night. And again I noticed something new. :)

  6. Pat, who doesn't love Sean Connery? But I must admit my love for him deepened as he grew older and more distinguised. I also love to see him in a kilt now and then. Ha!

  7. This is a great movie Yvette especially because quite often its the small intense scenes that stand out as much as the spectacular set pieces - I'm thinking of that great scene in the briefing room with his boss and the stuffy Generals where Ryan realises what Ramius' real plan is, or that bit when he gambles on whether the sub will turns left or right - greats bits of suspense, beautifully acted and directed.Not forgotten but marvellous fun.

  8. Yvette, I read this book only last year and it's still lying around somewhere, waiting to be given away to other Tom Clancy fans. I enjoyed the movie though it wasn't as gripping as the novel with its plots and sub-plots. It also gave me an insight into how the various US defence establishments work. I felt the over-the-top Alec Baldwin was a bit of a misfit as Jack Ryan. Give me Harrison Ford any day. Thanks for a very fine review...

  9. Patti: I definitely agree. I thought for sure you'd say you hadn't seen it or it just wasn't for you. :)

    I WAS WRONG! Ha!

  10. Sergio, yes I agree. There are many such intense moments. If you're not paying attention, you miss them and have to pick them up on the next watching. :)

    It's a dramatic movie, but I think, on the whole, a very intelligent one.

    I like those moments you mentioned, also the scenes with Fred Thompson who, no matter his politics, is a wonderful screen presence.

    I like that much of what occurs on the American side is based on hunches - respected hunches, it turns out. Thankfully.

  11. Prashant: I actually didn't mind Alec Baldwin in this. Possibly Harrison Ford might have been a bit too old even then to play the young Ryan. But maybe I'm remembering him wrong. I like Harrison Ford but in my mind he is a bit of a one note actor.

    But loved him as the President in that airplane picture. Was he Ryan in that? Can't remember.

    My brother reads Clancy and tells me bits and pieces now and then. Maybe one of these days I'll pick one up.

  12. Skye: Yes, it's a keeper. I'm so glad I own the dvd. :)

  13. Yvette, Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan at least in Clancy's PATRIOT GAMES. He was President in AIR FORCE ONE. Ben Affleck made a fine Jack Ryan in Clancy's THE SUM OF ALL FEARS alongside Morgan Freeman.

  14. Never read the book but then again I am horrible at the whole reading thing - at least I wish I was a more voracious reader.

    Alas for the movie…I think that I saw this one but it was such a long time ago.

    Definitely worth a rewatch!

    Thanks Yvette.

  15. Prashant: I never saw THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. I think I'll line it up in my queue.

    But doesn't Jack Ryan go on to be President in Clancy's books?

  16. Iba: You definitely have to see it again. You can see from the comments how much most of us love it.

  17. Haven't seen this in a long time! I'll admit to having a soft spot for Alec Baldwin, though. He's such a ham but I don't mind.

  18. Lauren: Yes, also he had some annoying mannerisms when young. But he's gotten over that. :)

    I love him on 30 Rock.

    This is such a terrific film. I've really forgotten just how many times I've seen it. Lots. :)


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