We Dive at Dawn (1943)

The submarine film is an interesting genre, and We Dive at Dawn is a good representative. Here you will find everything to be expected from a good submarine film. The closed spaces, the comradeship and conflicts among the crew, the sounds of machinery and exploding depth charges, the excitement of the hunt and the tense waiting as the hunter turns to prey.

John Mills and Reginald Purdell in We Dive at Dawn (1943)

The British submarine Sea Tiger has just come back after a long time at sea. We get to see the various crew members as they go ashore for a presumed lengthy leave, but we barely get a glimpse of their private troubles before they are ordered back to ship for another important mission. As the somewhat disheartened lot take their vessel out again, they are told that they are going after the German battleship Brandenburg, as they should be able to catch up with her before she enters the Kiel Canal in northern Germany.

But when they take aboard some Germans from a rescue buoy, they learn that the Brandenburg is farther ahead than expected, and they will not be able to catch up. The ship’s captain (John Mills) then makes the decision to enter the Baltic and search for the German battleship there. But the decision is a foolhardy one. Not only because the Baltic is full of German ships, but also because they are running low on fuel.

Judging by its looks, We Dive at Dawn was a pretty cheap film. The submarine interiors look convincing enough to my untrained eye, but many small details, such as John Mills’ fake stubble, lack the attention which marks a really well-produced film.

Nationalism and propaganda naturally lurks in the background of a wartime production such as this. But it is never allowed to surface (pun intended) in the same way as in, for example, In Which We Serve (1942) or One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942).

This film is best enjoyed if you like either submarines or British 30s/40s films. Though not the best representative of either category, We Dive at Dawn nevertheless has enough good qualities to satisfy your hunger for more of those kinds of films. The story, while a touch on the sentimental side, is good and the actors are adequate.

Turkish S class (Oruç Reis class) submarine P 614 in We Dive at Dawn (1943)

We Dive at Dawn
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Year: 1943
Running time: 1 h 33 min
Director: Anthony Asquith
Stars: John Mills
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (700 M)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

There is a certain amount of confusion about which was the world’s first feature-length science fiction film. Partly, perhaps, because it is not always very clear where to draw the border between what is and what is not science fiction.

Wikipedia, along with several other sources, claim for instance that the first ever science fiction feature film was Metropolis (1927), but then in the same article mentions several earlier films. (Here we see some disadvantages of community editing without an overseeing editor, but that is a discussion for another time.)

Edna Pendleton, Dan Henlon, Allen Holubar and Ned Land in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

The earliest one mentioned in that article, and one which is often mentioned in other soruces, is the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A splendid novel, which was one of my childhood favourites.

The film is unique not only because it was early science fiction, but also because it was the first feature film that used underwater photography, showing “actors” in spectacular diving suits. The divers move slowly and clumsily, but the coolness factor is enormous. It was also one of the first ever submarine films.

This film is best enjoyed for its historical significance. Due to its age, it has a number of faults, such as the blackened face of Captain Nemo. Still, it is a good effort for its time, and for sci-fi fans in general and Jules Verne fans in particular, it is a cinematic milestone.

Divers in diving suits in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
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Year: 1916
Running time: 1 h 40 min
Director: Stuart Paton
Stars: Dan Hanlon, Allen Holubar
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Excellent; synchronised with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (678 M)