“Of all the strange breeds that mighta come along, it was their bad luck to get me.”
In the years during and after World War II, the exploits of US Navy frogmen captured the American imagination. Seeking to showcase them on the silver screen, Hollywood producers worked closely with the Navy starting in 1950 to develop the film The Frogmen. The Navy provided extensive support, training actors using real frogmen drills and equipping them with state-of-the-art gear. Filming underwater presented huge challenges with the bulky cameras of the time. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our 1952 Academy Award Best Cinematography Black-and-White Nominees series with a conversation about Lloyd Bacon’s 1951 film The Frogmen.
Released in 1951, The Frogmen gave audiences an unprecedented look into the adventures of these elite naval commandos – the Underwater Demolitions Team, or UDT. A major part of our conversation was about the underwater filming used extensively throughout the movie. We were impressed by how they shot underwater action, since this was brand new and innovative in 1951. While the pacing seems slow now, those scenes must have been thrilling for audiences when it first came out. We speculated that the underwater cinematography is probably why it got the Oscar nomination.
We also talked a lot about the dynamic between Richard Widmark as the new commander and Dana Andrews as the chief who questions his leadership. Their contentious relationship drives much of the conflict and drama as they gradually gain mutual respect.
Some key scenes stand out that represent the film’s strengths to us. Disarming the live torpedo ratchets up the tension and shows Widmark’s courage. The rope transfer between ships demonstrates the Navy’s technical input. Planting the prank sign highlights real rivalries between units. And even though the final underwater fight pushes the action beyond historical truth, it’s clear that it’s designed for drama and emphasizes what the UDT was actually doing when the film was released.
Overall, we found The Frogmen to be enjoyable but not that memorable. The underwater footage remains the main appeal today, though perhaps military fans would be more inclined to revisit it. The film could use a restoration. But Widmark’s performance and the naval insight still make it worth watching. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!
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When the movie ends, our conversation begins.
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