The Hunt for Big Red
I have heard that the more recent "Crimson Tired" was inspired by "The Bedford Incident" and there is a good chance that it was because they are similar movies with it has to be said "The Bedford Incident" coming off as better. Now whilst "The Bedford Incident" is a cold war movie about an American destroyer hounding a Russian submarine it is less about the war and more about the obsessive nature of the American Captain and his extreme patriotism. And it is thrilling because we have this atmosphere aboard the US destroyer firstly from the Captain's dictator style leadership through to the tension of them tracking the Russian sub with the Captain leading them into danger. And it doesn't stop there because we then have a great twist, a twist which makes "The Bedford Incident" more than just some patriotic war movie.
Having received permission to cover life aboard the USS Bedford and interview Captain Finlander (Richard Widmark - Cheyenne Autumn), reporter Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier - The Jackal) quickly comes to realise several things about Finlander including his extreme patriotic view points and his feelings when it comes to using force to protect America. Munceford is not the only one who sees how cold Finlander can be as new medical officer Potter (Martin Balsam) as well as Nato Commodore Wolfgang (Eric Portman) also witness how extreme he can be. And as Finlander leads the men on the hunt for a Russian submarine tensions rise as it becomes clear that Finlander wants nothing more than to blow them out of the water despite them being in international waters.
We enter "The Bedford Incident" as a new medical officer and a reporter are winched aboard the USS Bedford and into hostile waters of a kind they don't anticipate. Those hostile waters are Captain Finlander a dictatorial leader who first doesn't take kindly to having reporter Ben Munceford on his vessel and never wanted a new medical officer in the form of Chester Potter. It is an intro which immediately makes us realise that Finlander is a man who is demanding of everyone, when he orders something he expects his orders to be followed no questions asked. And so for the first half of the movie we get to know Finlander and his patriotic view point as we come to understand that his views of using force even in peace waters does not go down well with those above him. We even get to marvel at life aboard the boat as we meet a group of scientists examining garbage found in the sea to help in tracking down the activities of the Russian submarine.
Having established the authoritarian leadership of Finlander we then get the hunt for Big Red as the submarine they are after is known and it is a tense affair. It is tense because you can sense that Finlander wants to blow them out of the water and when he receives orders to just track them it infuriates him. But we also realise that whilst he may be ordered not to attack he can hurt them in different ways, forcing the sub to stay submerged till their air runs thin and following them in to a field of icebergs, as dangerous for the sub as it is for him and his destroyer. Whilst all this is going on the tension rises aboard the USS Bedford as Munceford and various other people realise that Finlander is dangerous, a frightening man capable of anything as he takes sadistic pleasure from hounding the Russian submarine.
All of which is good because we have this maniacal Captain fuelling the tense atmosphere aboard the USS Bedford as he snaps at the bit to let loose on the Russian sub. And if that was all there was to "The Bedford Incident" it would have been a very good movie but there is more, there is a surprise end to all of this and one which does take you completely by surprise. I won't say anymore other than to say the ending helps "The Bedford Incident" stand out from the normal crowd pleasing war movies.
What is for sure is "The Bedford Incident" is Richard Widmark's movie, he creates this dangerously patriotic captain in Finlander a man who you expect quite quickly is capable of anything. And as the movie progresses Widmark makes him more and more obsessive, more dangerous as he borders on the sociopathic in his need to get the Russian submarine. So dominant is Widmark that whilst the cast also features Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam, Eric Portman and James MacArthur all of which deliver solid performances they are over shadowed.
What this all boils down to is that "The Bedford Incident" is a very good movie, a brilliant cold war movie which is less about the war and more about one man, the obsessive and dangerous Captain Finlander as he hounds down a Russian submarine.