The crew of HMS submarine Sea Tiger have their leave (and assorted family problems) cut short when they are recalled for a special mission: sink the new German battleship Brandenburg. En route, they learn that their target has entered the heavily defended Baltic; rather than fail, they follow it. Tension builds as they approach their target. After the attempt, escape seems impossible...unless they can refuel in enemy waters.
We Dive at Dawn - WE DIVE AT DAWN - Anthony Asquith's 1943 WWII Thriller
The British submarine Sea Tiger arrives back at base, and the crew begins a week's leave. We follow several of them into their lives, marital issues and other personal problems, until suddenly their leave is cut short and they are ordered out on a secret mission to intercept a new German battleship, the Brandenburg. The plan is to sink the Brandenburg before she enters the Kiel Canal en route to the Baltic Sea. When the Sea Tiger is unable to get there in time, the captain (John Mills) must improvise a dangerous new course of action. Along the way, he picks up three German pilots holed up in a rescue buoy, and the information they may or may not know becomes an important plot point.
Among the British crewmen given central roles, Eric Portman as Leading Seaman Hobson and Niall MacGinnis as Gunner's Mate Mike Corrigan stand out. These fine actors popped up in many good English films over the years, and this one's no exception. Portman gets the best role in the movie, a driven, focused, somewhat unhinged military man with severe domestic problems back home that we sense are always just below the surface of his professional exterior. He seems almost a prototype for Steve McQueen's Pvt. Reese in Hell is For Heroes (1962).
We Dive at Dawn was directed by Anthony Asquith, the son of a British prime minister who was raised in privilege and trained in both European and American filmmaking techniques, thanks to an early apprenticeship in Hollywood with John Ford and other directors. He was 41 when he made We Dive at Dawn and had already directed 18 films, including Pygmalion (1938) starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. He would direct 23 more, including The Way to the Stars (1945), The Winslow Boy (1948), The Browning Version (1951) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). Clearly he was drawn to stage adaptations, but Asquith knew a thing or two about keeping his films visual and fluid. We Dive at Dawn is not based on a play and does not feel stagy, but much of it could have been done as a play, with long sequences set inside the sub and containing much dialogue. The editing and the blocking, however, keep our experience completely cinematic. The point is that even a film like this shows a consistency in the type of material Asquith was drawn to.
And when We Dive at Dawn moves to land, in the film's final act (the Sea Tiger lands on a Danish island in an attempt to refuel), Asquith shows an equally adept hand in action. The island sequence is very solidly exciting, taut and well done -- but not overdone. There is just enough action to keep the film overall on the level of understated realism. Another director might have gone over the top with pyrotechnics, but Asquith smartly keeps it all of a piece.
In the sub sequences, the picture's documentary-like realism is really impressive. The sub's maneuvering, and the muscular effort that is involved in steering the thing, gets a lot of attention, perhaps more than the classic Hollywood submarine movies. The lack of a score, except over the credits, also contributes to the effect.
Although the language is inevitably a bit different (one seaman talks about making it back home by teatime), We Dive at Dawn is otherwise not too unlike a typical Hollywood combat film of the period, with a hero (in this case two), group and objective providing a narrative foundation for the movie. One difference that is striking, however, is in the film's treatment of social class. In American combat films, all the members of the group, regardless of their backgrounds, are made equal in a combat unit (military rankings aside). Here, one is acutely aware of the class differences among the men, which probably says more about British society and the way it is unavoidably presented in almost all British films, rather than anything specific about the British military.
In addition to this picture, VCI has just released The Way to the Stars (1945), Malta Story (1953), Above Us the Waves (1955), and Sea of Sand (1958) -- all typically evocative British titles. All are worthwhile, but The Way to the Stars and Above Us the Waves are the more famous standouts, and both again star John Mills. Malta Story (mistakenly labeled The Malta Story on VCI's packaging) is especially interesting for the first screen teaming of Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins, who would appear again in three more movies (though they wouldn't always have scenes together): The Prisoner (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Sea of Sand, about a British commando mission in North Africa, perhaps inspired Andre De Toth's much better Play Dirty (1968).
Picture quality is fine on these discs except for Sea of Sand, which is slightly washed out and not as sharp as the others. We Dive at Dawn and Above Us the Waves are the best-looking transfers of the bunch.
For more information about We Dive at Dawn, visit VCI Entertainment. To order We Dive at Dawn, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
We Dive at Dawn - WE DIVE AT DAWN - Anthony Asquith's 1943 WWII Thriller
We Dive at Dawn
The scenario by J.B. Williams and Val Valentine introduces us to the crew of HMS Sea Tiger, who have just docked in London to enjoy some well-deserved leave. For the craft's youngish and supremely self-confident skipper, Lt. Freddie Taylor (John Mills), he's looking forward to the type of R&R that the contents of his burgeoning black book can bring. For the rank and file, it's got a series of challenges. Torpedo gunner's mate Mike Corrigan (Niall MacGinnis) is looking for any excuse to dodge his planned wedding ceremony, while feigning enthusiasm for the benefit of his brother-in-law-to-be, ship's coxwain Dickie Dabbs (Reginald Purdell). For his part, the taciturn veteran leading seaman Jim Hobson (Eric Portman) heads home to make a last-ditch plea to his estranged wife (Josephine Wilson) in order to salvage their marriage.
Real life abruptly intrudes, as the crew is summoned back to port with critical orders. The German battleship Brandenburg is putting out for the Baltic Sea via the Kiel Canal of the Danish peninsula, and the Sea Tiger has been charged with intercepting and sinking her before the canal can be reached. With the rescue of a trio of German airmen from a buoy, the Sea Tiger is delayed from the intercept, and Taylor takes the gambit of circling Denmark, and braving nets and minefields, in order to confront the Brandenburg on its emergence from the canal.
The plan pays off, and the German warship is subjected to torpedo fire; without a chance to find out if the target has been hit, the Sea Tiger takes its own damage from the Brandenburg's escort. Taylor has the crew crash-dive and jettison debris, which dupes the Germans into believing they have a kill. However, the skirmish has left the British sub without enough fuel for the return home. The officers are ready to let their men choose capture over death when the fatalistic (and handily Deutsch-speaking) Hobson offers to don one of the German pilot's uniforms and run a distraction while the ship puts in at an occupied Danish port for refueling. The execution of this audacious scheme carries the narrative to a rousing conclusion.
Top billing went to Portman, whose brooding presence and skill in portraying damaged personalities spoke to wartime British filmgoers, and who had gained popularity for his efforts in the aforementioned 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. Mills, who had burnished his own resume during the era with In Which We Serve and Waterloo Road (1945) brought his signature fortitude and grace under fire to the role of the cocksure captain.
The Royal Admiralty's cooperation with the Gaumont-British production is reflected in the scrupulous detail, and Mills prepped for his role by accompanying a submarine crew on a voyage down the Clyde. The actor recalled the moment that the sub took a crash dive in his 1980 autobiography Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen Please: "The ship then seemed to stand on her nose and I felt her speeding like an arrow towards the sea bed; charts and crockery went flying in all directions; I hung on to a rail near the periscope trying to look heroic and totally unconcerned; the only thing that concerned me was the fact that I was sure that my face had turned a pale shade of pea-green."
Producer: Edward Black
Director: Anthony Asquith
Screenplay: J.B. Williams, Val Valentine (story and screenplay); Frank Launder (uncredited)
Cinematography: Jack Cox
Art Direction: Walter Murton
Music: Hubert Bath (uncredited)
Film Editing: R.E. Dearing
Cast: John Mills (Lt Freddie Taylor - Captain), Louis Bradfield (Lt. Brace, First Officer), Ronald Millar (Lt. Johnson, Third Officer), Jack Watling (Lt. Gordon, Navigating Officer), Reginald Purdell (Coxwain, C/P.O. Dabbs), Caven Watson (Chief Engine Room Artificer, C/P.O. Duncan), Niall MacGinnis (Torpedo Gunner's Mate, C/P.O. Mike Corrigan).
by Jay Steinberg
We Dive at Dawn
Who are you seeing this leave? Your "Aunt Margaret" again?- Admiral
I can't risk it, sir. Her husband's on leave.- Lt. Freddie Taylor
The submarine used for the surface shots was HMS Varangian