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Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Bedford Incident

I end my look at films from 1965 with The Bedford Incident, a taut and well-acted military drama that mixes in a little The Caine Munity, some Moby Dick, and just a dash of Dr. Strangelove.

Set in the early '60s, during the cold war, the story is set aboard a U.S. destroyer called the Bedford. Our way in is a reporter played by Sidney Poitier, who is doing a story on life on a naval ship, but he's really interested in the captain (Richard Widmark), a tough as nails commander who suffers no fools and runs a tight ship.

The ship's job is to hunt Russian subs, which they are doing off the coast of Greenland. Also on board is a former U-Boat commander (Eric Portman), once the enemy but now an ally. Poitier comes on board with the new medical officer (Martin Balsam), a genial reservist who immediately rubs Widmark the wrong way.

The action kicks off when the Bedford spots a sub, and then a long game of cat and mouse ensues, since the sub was in Greenland territorial waters. It stays under, but will sooner or later run out of air, and Widmark awaits orders from NATO as to whether to take any action, He is itching to, obsessed with winning the game.

The Bedford Incident is a nice time capsule. It recalls other films, in addition to the ones I mentioned, such as Fail Safe, for its paranoia. Of course it is a Hollywood film, and points out that all of this is folly.

Widmark is an actor who never got his due, and he is at the top of his game here, a complicated man who straddles the line between a good leader and a martinet. Poitier is also very good, and it's somewhat amazing that fifty years ago he was given a color-blind role--no mention is made of his race. This makes The Bedford Incident way ahead of its time.

It's always fun to see actors in old films before they were famous. James McArthur, who would be well known as Danno on Hawaii Five-0, plays the key role of a junior officer. Donald Sutherland has a bit part--he is not in the opening credits, so I thought I recognized him and then when he spoke I was sure it was him. Also in the film is comic actor Wally Cox as the dedicated radar officer.

I had never heard of this film until it was recommended to me by Marco of Gone Elsewhere. I pass that recommendation on to anyone else who likes a good, thoughtful film.

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