The Frogmen


1h 36m 1951

Film Details

Release Date
Jul 1951
Premiere Information
World premiere in Little Creek, VA: 24 May 1951; New York opening: 29 Jun 1951; Los Angeles opening: 13 Jul 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Key West, Florida, United States; Norfolk, Virginia, United States; St. Thomas,Virgin Islands

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,655ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

During World War II, in the South Pacific, Lt. Cmdr. John Lawrence, a strict disciplinarian, is put in charge of the elite thirty-member Navy Underwater Demolition Team #4 after their former leader, Jack Cassidy, is killed. The men are distrustful of the standoffish Lawrence, and their burgeoning relationship takes a turn for the worse when Lawrence chews them out for brawling with sailors. The ship's captain, Lt. Cmdr. Pete Vincent, advises Lawrence to go easier on the men, who are often sent on dangerous, complicated missions to clear landing sites of underwater obstacles. Lawrence refuses to indulge the squad, however, and earns their enmity when he splits them up for a reconnaisance mission and puts edgy Chief Jake Flannigan in charge of the more dangerous side of the island they are exploring. During the mission, which is to ascertain the best area for the U.S. forces to invade a Japanese-held Pacific island, Lawrence cuts his leg on some coral, and one of the pick-up boats is shelled and destroyed. Lawrence sees that Flannigan and the wounded Kinsella are still in the water, but rather than risk the men and information he has already gathered, he orders his boat to return to the main ship. A rescue boat succeeds in picking up the embittered Flannigan and Kinsella, but Lawrence's seemingly heartless actions increase the men's ill will toward him. Flannigan and some of the others request transfers to another unit, but Lawrence insists that they complete the next day's mission to clear the landing site for the invasion. The next morning, Lawrence, who is sick with coral poisoning, does not reveal his illness when he puts Flannigan in charge of the mission and stays behind. Assuming that Lawrence is a coward, the men angrily but efficiently complete their task, although "Pappy" Creighton, whose brother is a Marine, sneaks onto the beach with Flannigan to leave a sign welcoming the Marines. Creighton is shot by snipers on the beach, but Flannigan tows him to the pick-up boat. Back on the ship, Creighton is put in traction because of the bullets in his spine, and Flannigan confesses to Lawrence that their prank caused Creighton's injuries. Lawrence furiously upbraids Flannigan for his irresponsible behavior, and soon all of the men request transfers. While Lawrence is discussing the problem of the men's hero worship of Cassidy with Vincent, a torpedo hits the ship but does not explode. Lawrence volunteers to disarm the torpedo, which has lodged in the hospital room next to Creighton's bed, and with the help of Flannigan, succeeds. Soon after, Lawrence receives orders to blow up a Japanese submarine pen, and tells the men that although it will be their last mission together, as he will request a transfer himself, he is proud to have served with them. Despite Flannigan's suspicion that Lawrence will again pull light duty, Lawrence leads the mission, which is endangered when one of the men accidentally trips a signal wire. Japanese sentries shoot at the men as they plant the charges, and the men are forced into hand-to-hand combat with Japanese divers. Lawrence is stabbed during one fierce encounter, and although he orders Flannigan to leave him behind because he will hinder Flannigan's own escape, Flannigan tows him to safety. The mission is a success, and soon Lawrence is recuperating in the sick bay with Creighton. Finally won over by Lawrence's pragmatism and bravery, the men reveal their acceptance of him by asking him to sign the portrait they have drawn of Cassidy for his widow.

Film Details

Release Date
Jul 1951
Premiere Information
World premiere in Little Creek, VA: 24 May 1951; New York opening: 29 Jun 1951; Los Angeles opening: 13 Jul 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Key West, Florida, United States; Norfolk, Virginia, United States; St. Thomas,Virgin Islands

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,655ft (10 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1951

Best Writing, Screenplay

1952

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

This film opens with the following written statement: "This is a true story based on incidents which occurred in the latter part of World War II. It deals with one of the most hazardous and unique branches of the Armed Forces...the Underwater Demolition Teams. This film could not have been produced without the active cooperation of the Department of Defense and the United States Navy." Underwater Demolition Teams, whose members were nicknamed "frogmen," have been used since World War II for reconnaissance duties, clearing of underwater obstacles planted by the enemy, advance landings on beaches and offensive underwater attacks on enemy ships. The U.S. aquatic forces eventually became the Navy SEALs.
       According to Hollywood Reporter news items, producer Paul Short of Allied Artists protested the use of the title The Frogmen by Twentieth Century-Fox, asserting that he had established prior claim to it. Eventually Short dropped his claim and Twentieth Century-Fox was allowed to use the title. Short's production was never made. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, several studios were interested in producing films about the Underwater Demolition Teams, but only Twentieth Century-Fox obtained an exclusive guarantee of cooperation from the Navy. Studio records also report that Fox purchased the rights to a book entitled The Frogmen, written by Tom Waldron and James Gleeson, although it was unrelated to the film and was purchased only to provide "protection" on the title.
       A January 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Henry Hathaway was originally set to direct the picture, which was to feature Millard Mitchell in a starring role. According to studio records, Richard Conte was originally set to play "Pete Vincent," Jack Elam was first cast as "Sleepy," and Craig Hill was set to play "Lt. J. G. Franklin." Although a January 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that New York stage actress Evelyn Evans had been cast in the film, she does not appear in the completed picture. In a November 28, 1950 news item, Hollywood Reporter reported that because working conditions were deemed too "riotous" for women, all female roles were written out of the script. No actresses appeared in the completed picture.
       According to a November 22, 1950 Variety news item, the film was to incorporate footage shot by the U.S. Navy of the invasion of Korea. Studio publicity reported the film used several pieces of innovative equipment such as a seven-ton undersea camera bell to encase the cameras and a new underwater camera called the Aquaflex, which ran independently of air supply and electric cables running to the surface. Only two Aquaflex cameras existed at the time, one of which was owned by the studio and the other by the military. Contemporary sources note that the film was shot on location in Norfolk, VA; Key West and Silver Springs, FL; and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. A February 28, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that assistant director Dick Mayberry filled in for director Lloyd Bacon when Bacon fell ill with the flu. According to a September 16, 1951 New York Times article, before the film's New York opening, the studio "bought time on every local TV outlet to screen a trailer of the film's unique underwater sequences." The film received Academy Award nominations in the Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Writing (Motion Picture Story) categories.
       Studio records indicate that producer Samuel G. Engel wrote an original story entitled "Frogmen in Korea" as an intended follow-up to The Frogmen, but that picture was not produced. Story writer Oscar Millard did write a one-hour television remake of The Frogmen, entitled "Deep Water," which was broadcast in May 1957 on the 20th Century-Fox Hour. The program was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred Ralph Meeker, James Whitmore and Richard Arleen.