Patriotic Movie Month: "The Hunt For Red October"

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In 1984, the USSR's best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war?
3.5

Rating: PG
Length: 134 minutes
Release Date: March 2, 1990
Directed by: John McTiernan
Genre: Action / Adventure / Thriller

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was the focus of foreign policy for the Reagan administration throughout the 1980s. Towards the end of the decade as the collapse of Soviet power became more apparent, John McTiernan's submarine adventure "The Hunt for Red October" reminded moviegoers that threats of an all-out war between the two superpowers was a real possibility. Sean Connery stars as rogue Soviet submarine Captain Marko Ramius, and Alec Baldwin stars as a young Jack Ryan in the first of Tom Clancy's military thriller novels to be turned into a movie.

The film begins as the Red October leaves port and Capt. Ramius murders the ship's political officer. Ramius burns his original orders and rewrites them before turning his submarine towards the East Coast of the United States. The morning after Ramius' treachery, the CIA attempts to interpret the sudden movements of the Soviet navy.

Ryan, a young CIA intelligence officer, deduces that Ramius wants to defect to the United States due to the precise timing of the submarine's departure from Soviet detection. Ryan figures that the entire Soviet navy knows this and wants to stop the rogue captain. Military commanders fear an unauthorized strike against America because the Red October is undetectable to normal sonar due to its special propulsion system. Ryan spends the rest of the movie convincing his superiors that Ramius does indeed want to defect.

Ryan's bold plan needs precision to work. The USS Dallas calls off its pursuit of the dangerous Ramius just so the CIA agent can board the submarine from a helicopter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With the Red October bearing down, Ryan convinces Cmdr. Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) that Ramius wants to defect despite hostile maneuvers near America.

After a face-to-face meeting with Ramius on board the Dallas, Mancuso is convinced of the captain's intentions. Ramius makes it appear that the Red October is sabotaged so that his crew would not know of his defection. An undercover Soviet agent kills the Red October's first officer (Sam Neill) and nearly kills Ramius and Ryan in the engine room. When a second Soviet submarine is destroyed by its own torpedo, the rescued crew of the Red October believes Ramius and his sub were sunk. After the Soviet fleet retreats, Red October and its commanding officer make port in Maine.

Clancy's first novel made into a movie was a success. Several big-name actors appeared in the film, including Baldwin, Connery, Neill, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Courtney B. Vance, Stellan Skarsgard, Richard Jordan, Joss Ackland and Jeffrey Jones. "The Hunt for Red October" marked one of Baldwin's early hits that propelled him to superstardom. Neill received a career boost as first officer Vasili Borodin, and Curry excelled as the Red October's medical officer who was unsure of Ramius' daring plan. The film grossed more than $122 million on a budget of $30 million.

Funny moments between Ryan and Mancuso temper the heavy theme of an all-out war between the United States and Soviet Union. At one point, Ryan guesses that Ramius will turn his sub a certain direction because of the time on the clock. After Ryan tells Mancuso he guessed and figured he deserved a lucky break, the submarine commander later quips that his Morse code is so rusty he might be delivering a woman's breast size to the Soviet captain instead of instructions for defection. Ryan also makes fun of Ramius' statement about how the nuclear engines of the Red October "don't respond well to bullets."

The microcosm of mistrust between American and Soviet submarine crews, as well as the cautious vagueness between American NSA adviser Jeffrey Pelt (Jordan) and Soviet Ambassador Andrei Lysenko (Ackland), typify the macrocosmic struggle between the United States and Soviet Union from World War II to 1991. Just one year after "The Hunt for Red October" hit movie theaters, Soviet domination ended when Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved his own political party and former Soviet republics became independent nations.

"The Hunt for Red October" inspired an entirely new generation of military thriller movies. For the next decade, films such as "Crimson Tide," "The Rock" and "Independence Day" became blockbuster hits featuring American military units. Submarines also gained attention on the big screen in such works as "Down Periscope" and "K-19: The Widowmaker." Clancy's thriller movie served as a fictional turning point in history. The Cold War did not dominate America's collective psyche after that point, and Americans were able to turn their attention to other foreign policy concerns.