The Frogmen Review
The trailers that Fox have included on this DVD state, "You Have Never Seen Anything Like...The Frogmen!" Another announces, "You Are About To Witness Scenes Never Before Brought To The Screen!" That's as may be but I suspect that there were films produced prior to this one in which underwater cinematography was used. A little bit of research turned up a reference to Prince Francesco Alliata making a 12-minute documentary, Cacciatori Sottomarini, in and around the Mediterranean in 1946, which was then entered in the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
Given that underwater photography was no doubt the preserve of amateur enthusiasts before the release of this film, the trailers are likely to be quite correct in their statements. The Frogmen may well have been the first time that non-divers saw action beneath the surface of the sea and, in that, it really doesn't disappoint, even earning itself an Oscar nomination for cinematographer Norbert Brodine. It is unfortunate, though, that such filming finds itself bobbing around between such clichéd scenes on the surface.
The film itself really could not be any simpler - Richard Widmark stars as Lt. Cmdr. John Lawrence, posted to take command of a UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) at work in the Pacific during the Second World War. It is Lawrence's bad luck that he is taking over the team following the death of their previous commander and his strict ways soon rankle with a unit that had been used to some freedoms both on R&R onshore and whilst at sea. After injuring his leg on a mission, which requires him to sit out the next one, Lawrence is dismissed as a coward and, following his criticism of a chief on the team for taking a risk on a practical joke, which resulted in a diver getting shot, his entire team puts in a request to leave his command. However, when Lawrence disarms a live Japanese torpedo, his team continue with their transfer request but they have one last job to do - sabotage a Japanese submarine base.
The Frogmen is not unenjoyable and director Lloyd Bacon keeps the tension high throughout. I originally intended to watch the film over two nights but found the temptation to keep on watching too great, always thinking, "...just a few more minutes." The Frogmen is very appealing in that sense - at 97 minutes, it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome and it makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Unfortunately, it does so in the manner of returning to something like The Hardy Boys or a childhood annual - it can be torn through in a short space of time but only by sacrificing depth for the simple banalities of war. There were many times during the time that I drifted out of listening to what Richard Widmark had to say and it wasn't because of a lack of interest, more that it was as clichéd as a half-time talk by a football manager. When it happens once, it's forgivable but the longer the film goes on and Widmark's character never moves on from one platitude after another, you find yourself wishing for more underwater action, not only because of the excellent cinematography but that it's entirely free of dialogue.
As regards the scenes underwater, they are the reason that The Frogmen comes with a reputation and should you find yourself looking for a solid action movie set in the Pacific during wartime, this will not disappoint. The actions of the men within the UDT feel right and although there is evidence online to say that the scuba equipment they use during the attempted sabotage on the submarine base is inaccurate, it doesn't feel quite enough to attack the film with. Instead, the three sorties off their transport vessel have the feeling, if not the actual look, of authenticity and are wonderful setpieces, particularly the drop-and-pickup sequences in the film's opening twenty minutes. Even the scene in which Richard Widmark is passed between boats offers a little excitement despite looking as though he was thinking, "...and I'm straight outta this soon as I hear, "Cut!""
Due to the criticism of the dialogue, this is not one of Widmark's better roles. Warlock, which I will be reviewing shortly, offers a much better part to the actor. Similarly, Dana Andrews never looks comfortable in the role of Chief Flannigan, even to the extent of looking somewhat embarrassed by the part. Anyone who was impressed by his ability to take a hold of the part of Dr. John Holden in Night Of The Demon will be disappointed by his lack of surefootedness here. Jeffrey Hunter is the surprise of the film and although it isn't that his role or dialogue is any better than that given to the other actors - he actually spends most of the film lying in bed after being shot on a mission - it's simply that through exceptional good looks and the confidence of youth, he steals the film during its first hour.
Finally, there is Robert Wagner...or, rather, there isn't. Or there may be. It's difficult to tell if he's in the film despite being sixth-billed. Apparently, Wagner is in the film as an extra but between the completion of filming and the release of The Frogmen, Wagner's star rose considerably and Fox gave him a much higher billing than his part deserved so to attract any stray fans waiting in the lobby of their cinema and still undecided about what film to buy tickets for. Should you spot him, please use the comments below and put my frame-by-frame search at an end.
The Frogmen has enjoyed a very good transfer from Fox, which has issued the film as part of the Fox War Classics range. The picture is remastered nicely with the black-and-white cinematography looking very good indeed with the only criticism being that the stock footage and back-projection are both very obvious when placed between the scenes shot by Norbert Brodine.
Fox have also included the original mono soundtrack but have also created a stereo track for this release. Truth be told, there's very little between them with, possibly the only comment to make on them, the stereo track not sounding quite as natural as the mono.
This being Region 1, English and Spanish subtitles are included on the main feature but not on the bonus features.
Teaser Trailer (33s): Audiences may well have been thrilled at the sight of the frogmen underwater but the short running time of this teaser makes it largely irrelevant. One suspects that Fox included it only for completeness.
Theatrical Trailers (2m09s, 57s): The second trailer of the two suffers from the same fate as the Teaser Trailer - that of being too short to matter - but the 2:09 trailer is more like it. Cutting between the action sequences underwater and the bristling officers on the surface, this gives a good feel for the film.
I doubt that it will ever appear on a list of the greatest war movies but as a man's film, it's a fine slice of high wartime adventure. Nitpick it too much and the flaws in the film's accuracy are easy to spot but just let it roll by and you'll have a high old time with it. Whether it's a film to own on DVD or to watch on a rainy weekday afternoon is something that only you can answer. Personally, I'd wait for a TV showing, only taking this copy when I missed BBC2's recent broadcast of it but what with TV stations having to fit films like this around home improvement, dating and reality shows, you might have a long wait.