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HELLCATS OF THE NAVY

Review by Chastity Campbell

Stars: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis
Director: Nathan Juran
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 81 Minutes
Release Date: May 13, 2003

“Was it my fault?  She practically sat down on my lap and demanded attention.”

“Oh yeah, sure, I hear she’s just that type!”

“Eh, don’t let the quiet ones fool ya, Don…you gotta open the oyster to find the pearl!”

Film **

After watching Hellcats Of The Navy a thought kept revolving round, and round in my head.  Ronald Reagan won the Presidential Election of 1980.  He became the nation’s 40th President, and held the title of Commander and Chief.  Someone who can accomplish that has real talent, yet he never won an Oscar for his work!  I can see it all now…it’s late in the evening on inauguration day…

“Hey Ron, congratulations, great speech.”

“Thanks Ollie, I knew I would get to use that speech some day!” 

Okay, I know, bad joke, I’ll try to control myself.  Hellcats Of The Navy stars Ronald Reagan as the submarine Captain, Casey Abbot.  Captain Abbot is on a mission into the Tsushima Straits to retrieve two undersea mines.  Halfway through the operation, his submarine is spotted by an enemy ship, and he has no choice but to take cover and dive, dive!   Case, as he is most commonly referred to in this film, was only able to get one of the mines aboard his sub before heading underwater.  He also had to leave Wes, his lead frogman behind. 

This movie represents a benchmark in personal cinematic history for President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.  It was the first, and only time the two actors ever shared the screen together.   Did they sizzle or did they fizzle?  Well, now it wouldn’t be any fun if I told, would it!

This black and white movie was shot mostly out at sea with the permission and help of the United States Navy.  A very in depth look at undersea submarine life is presented without the heavily relied upon modern day special effects cutting into the actors screen time.  No CGI is present, and no Matrix style torpedo dodging is happening, it’s a basic point and shoot style of filming.  

Actress and later First Lady Nancy Davis, plays the part of Nurse Helen Blair.   She’s a Florence Nightingale wishing her frogman would turn into prince charming.   The only problem is, Prince Charming left her frogman drifting out to sea, and has no plans to ride off into the sunset when his ship comes in.

Nancy’s performance was a little dry and uneventful.  She didn’t have much screen time, as the film was only 81 minutes long, yet she added that little spark of romance that kept this war flick from being all about Navy boys and their toys.  

The writing honors, we can now gladly say, go to Bernard Gordon and David Lang.   Gordon originally wrote his drafts under the pseudonym, Raymond Marcus.  Blacklisted by Hollywood for supposed un-American political activities, Gordon was ostracized and ignored.  In 1997 studios were asked to restore the names of blacklisted authors to the movie credits they contributed to.   I would like to have reported that Mr. Gordon’s name was listed in the credits of this DVD however, that is not the case, with the credits, or on the DVD case itself. 

The McCarthy era witch hunts that led to the blacklisting of authors because of their political beliefs is a stain on the history of Hollywood Cinema.   It is estimated that during the McCarthy era, over 100 films were made by blacklisted authors, using aliases as a cover.  Some of these people have yet to be given credit for their work. 

Hellcats Of The Navy was not the most adventurous or exciting film.  It does, however,  allow the average person inside the lives and events that helped shaped the progress of a War.   The history buff and film lover in me was thrilled to have an opportunity to see a true story unfold before the cameras eye.   The political side of me couldn’t quite wrap itself around Ron and Nancy as anything but President and Mrs. Reagan!

If you’re into World War II and you want to submerge yourself in history, then this DVD is entertaining enough to make the 81 minutes worth your while.

Video **

This film was transferred with respect to the original theatrical version and is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen format.   The problems with this transfer are evident right from the start.  Not much clean up work went into this transfer, and owing to its advanced age and the type of film originally used, there were a lot of scenes which appeared to have a yellow tone to them.  The print was pretty dirty, and had quite a few creases that transferred digitally into black lines. 

While not a total loss considering it’s a late 50s release, this DVD could have seriously benefited from a face lift.

Audio **

The audio was surprisingly good for a film this old.   As with other films from that time period the audio recorded outside or on the deck of the ship tended to sound hollow and thin.  Also, the music bed or secondary audio in certain scenes was hard to hear at times.

The one thing that surprised me was the dialogue that was recorded and then looped in later.  The audio engineers on this film did a wonderful job of synching things up.  I will even go so far as to say the mix on this disc was better than some modern day films.   The Dolby Digital upgrade was nice, but didn’t do much to help the over all mix.  

Features *

This DVD contained interactive menus, and various scene selection options.  The subtitles were available in English and Japanese.  

Movie trailers for The Bridge On The River Kwai, From Here To Eternity, and The Guns Of Navarone, (one of my all time favorite movies) are included for your viewing pleasure.  It’s always nice to see the trailers for movies long past.  Shows us how far we’ve come and sometimes, how much we can learn from the past if we take the time!

Summary:

Whether your old or young, a good war movie now and then always gets your patriotic juices flowing.  I would recommend this movie to anyone for the historical value alone.   Pick it up on DVD today, and relive a great adventure with The Hellcats Of The Navy.