Cast & Crew
In 1944, toward the end of World War II, Commander Casey Abbott of the United States Navy is assigned the strategic mission to retrieve an underwater mine developed by the Japanese, which is undetectable by radar. Casey and the crew of his submarine, The Starfish , transverse a Japanese shipping route to the edge of the minefield, where Navy diver Wes Barton leads an expedition in search of the mines. Soon after Barton submerges, however, the sub's radar reveals an enemy destroyer approaching, thus forcing Casey to abandon his mission and submerge his sub, a tactic that results in Barton's death. Casey's executive officer Lt. Commander Don Landon protests Casey's decision, implying that he may have been motivated by the fact that Barton had been dating Casey's former sweetheart, Navy nurse Helen Blair. Freddy Warren, a young sailor, is also traumatized by Casey's decision. Back at their base in Guam, Casey is vindicated by Vice-Admiral Charles Lockwood, but Lockwood rejects Casey's suggestion to follow a Japanese fighter through the mine field and chart its course as it threads its way through the explosives. Helen, relieved to see Casey, confides that she never loved Barton and reassures him that he was not influenced by personal considerations. Assigned a new mission to test a circuit developed by the lab to detect the mines, The Starfish suffers an enemy attack in which its sonar and radar are knocked out and Freddy is gravely injured. To save Freddy's life, Casey orders the sub to surface and return to port, thus aborting his mission. After safely reaching Guam, Casey and Landon are assigned to destroy a Japanese island being used as an enemy base. Come nightfall, Landon leads the raid, but when their explosives detonate ahead of schedule, the men find themselves adrift in a sea of fire. After all but one man is rescued, the enemy ships retaliate, sending The Starfish plunging down into the sea. His sonar and radar disabled by attack, Casey has no choice but to follow a Japanese freighter through the treacherous strait, making a chart of the deadly mine field as the sub limps along. Once outside enemy territory, The Starfish resurfaces, but the vessel has been irreparably damaged, forcing Casey to give the order to abandon ship. Although the raft carrying the survivors is rescued, Casey blames himself for the loss of sixty of his men. Once ashore, Landon discovers that he has been denied the post of commander due to a negative performance review written by Casey. When Landon challenges the review, Casey states that Landon is incapable of making painful decisions during emergencies, rendering him unfit for command. Freddy, recovering in the hospital, apologizes to Casey for questioning his decision about Barton. At the inquiry into the loss of The Starfish , Casey is vindicated and given the command of The Sea Ray with Landon as serving as his executive officer. The Sea Ray , and the Navy subs in the area, designated "The Hellcats," are then assigned to penetrate the Tsushima Strait, a critical trade route for the Japanese, and launch an attack that will severely cripple the lifeline that provides food and supplies to the islands of Japan. If sonar fails, the men are instructed to use the chart mapped earlier by Casey. Upon reaching the strait, The Sea Ray 's sonar is knocked out, but the sub successfully navigates the mine field using Casey's chart. On June 9th, the attack is launched, destroying a total of twenty-two ships and one submarine. When The Sea Ray 's propeller blade becomes jammed, the sub is forced to surface for repair, and Casey dons a diving suit and dives below to fix it, leaving Landon in command. Just as Casey becomes entangled in a cable, a Japanese destroyer is spotted on the horizon, and Casey radios orders for the sub to submerge. When Landon balks, Casey reminds him that the crew is now his responsibility, prompting Landon to cut Casey's cable and submerge, casting Casey adrift. After torpedoing the destroyer, Landon peers through his telescope and, spotting Casey bobbing on the surface, immediately resurfaces and saves him. With their mission completed, Landon apologizes to Casey for misjudging him. As the sub sails into port, Helen waves to Casey, who then turns to Landon and asks him to be his best man at their wedding.
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
Lt. Commander William R. Boose Usn
Charles H. Schneer
Abner E. Singer
Hellcats of the Navy
The claustrophobic look on his face was the real thing Reagan was genuinely uncomfortable in close quarters. It heightens the tension in this oddly bifurcated film in which the action, based as it is on actual WW II naval operations, is gripping enough, while the human interactions run a narrow gamut from contrived to wooden. Davis hasn't got a chance, either in terms of her character, or the lack of dramatic potential in the maladroit script. The other crew members take heart from images of pinup cheesecake featuring scantily-clad cuties in coy poses. We only ever see Davis's character, Helen Blair, however, in chaste nurse's whites. No bikini for her in the one photo we do see. It's a head shot of her in starched white nurse's cap.
She spends most of her onscreen time wringing her hands, literally and figuratively. She and Reagan's Commander Casey Abbott don't have love scenes. They have scenes talking about why they can't have love scenes. They broke their engagement when he went to war. She thought it was because he stopped caring, not knowing he was being noble, wanting to spare her widowhood and possibly single parenthood. This all gets worked out later, but not before she embarked on a rebound fling with Harry Lauter's diver. On a mission, the commander orders the surfaced sub to dive when a Japanese destroyer bears down on them, leaving the diver to die. The sub's executive officer (Arthur Franz, who imparts most of the intensity and conviction the film musters) suspects that a sense of personal rivalry with the diver, and not the commander's decision to remove the rest of the crew from risk, was behind the decision.
They clash. Later, the commander himself leaves the sub to play frogman when the sub is snagged on a steel cable. The second in command makes a similar decision, faced with a similar danger. Only from the vantage point of actual command under fire does he realize that Reagan's skipper may not have been driven by personal emotion after all. Difficult to imagine that he might have been, given his character's stiffness! By the end of the film, when the rescued skipper makes it home after a dangerous mission and is talking wedding with the nurse, his former adversary has signed on as best man, their differences resolved when the fiery second-in-command realizes it can be lonely at the top, and that the skipper's strong, silent, stoical approach is the way to go.
What's supposed to be the human interest is devoid of interest. What makes the film worth watching is its depiction of the specifics of the missions first to retrieve a Japanese mine in order to take it apart and figure out how the Japanese have rigged it to avoid sonar. Then in stealthily following a freighter through a mine-free channel in the heavily mined Sea of Japan in order to cripple Japan's supply ships. And also torpedoing a few Japanese naval vessels and, in a commando raid, a supply depot. It's a member in good standing of the fleet of patriotic WW II movies. You can readily understand why it got full Department of Defense co-operation, and why Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz introduces it (Nimitz appears as a character in the film, too, at a briefing, played by Selmer Jackson). What you don't quite understand is why the film waited until 1957 to get made. Even then, it must have seemed dated.
While Hellcats of the Navy hardly foreshadows Reagan's Presidency, the uncomplicated patriotic sentiments in it are voiced with conviction in what was to be Reagan's next-to-last film role (and Nancy's last). With their respective film careers fading, both had already segued into TV (they appeared in Zane Grey Theater and General Electric Theater installments together). The GE Theater, which Reagan famously hosted, led to America growing accustomed to having his genial affability enter their homes on a regular basis. His voice and manner were his selling points. He began his career in radio (four of his first eight film roles were based on radio characters). His range wasn't great, and nobody ever called his acting nuanced, but he projected a reassuring solidity and decency, a persona in which a bit of woodenness was as much an asset as a liability. Ironically, his last film role, in Don Siegel's 1964 remake of The Killers, saw him depart from that persona in a big way, when he literally slapped around a hapless Angie Dickinson.
The comfort that Reagan induced in audiences played a role in this production. Reagan was happy with the choice of Nathan Juran as director, having previously filmed with Juran on Law and Order (1953). There he played a lawman lured out of retirement to clean up a frontier town and found the collaboration agreeable. Juran (1907-2002) never achieved as a director the reputation he earned as art director of such films as Body and Soul (1947), Undertow (1949), Winchester '73 (1950) and Bend of the River (1952). Today he's remembered primarily as the man behind the camera on Ray Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and for guiding such sci-fi campfests as The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). But he had an eye. And he was resourceful. There's no small amount of stock footage in Hellcats of the Navy, including some that looks suspiciously similar to sequences from Crash Drive (1943). He wasn't given a surefire proposition in Hellcats of the Navy. But he and the Reagans -- didn't tank with it. It's tight, economical, efficient, professional, and surprisingly given the inauspiciousness of its genesis -- shipshape.
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Nathan Juran
Screenplay: David Lang, Raymond T. Marcus; David Lang (screen story); Vice-Admiral Charles A. Lockwood Vice-Admiral USN Ret., Col. Hans Christian Adamson USAF Ret. (book "Hellcats of the Sea")
Cinematography: Irving Lippman
Art Direction: Rudi Feld
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Ronald Reagan (Cmdr. Casey Abbott - Captain of USS Starfish), Nancy Davis (Nurse Lt. Helen Blair), Arthur Franz (Lt. Cmdr. Don Landon - XO of USS Starfish), Robert Arthur (Freddy Warren), William Leslie (Lt. Paul Prentice), William Phillips (Carroll).
by Jay Carr
Biographical Dictionary of Film, by David Thomson, 1981, William Morrow
The Films of Ronald Reagan, by Tony Thomas, 1980, Citadel
Early Reagan (Rise to Power), by Anne Edwards, 1987, Morrow
The Encyclopedia of Film, by Ephraim Katz, 1979, Thomas Crowell
Variety review, May 1, 1957
Hellcats of the Navy
Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004 - TCM Remembers Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan, the actor turned elected official whose fascinating career saw him develop as a contract player for Warner Brothers studios, to a politician who fulfilled his ambitions by becoming the 40th President of the United States, died at his home in Los Angeles on June 5 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93.
He was born Ronald Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois to John and Nelle Reagan. When Reagan was nine, his family settled down in the small community of Dixon, about 100 miles west of Chicago. After high school, Reagan enrolled in Eureka College, a small Christian school near Peoria. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in Economics, and pursued a career in broadcasting. His first gig was as a part-time announcer at WOC in Davenport, Iowa. Within a year, WOC had merged with its big-sister station, WHO in Des Moines, and Reagan was hired as a sports announcer.
In the spring of 1937, Reagan drove to Southern California to catch the Chicago Cubs in spring training on Santa Catalina Island. While he was in California, he wrangled a screen test and signed a contract for $200 a week with Warner Brothers. His film debut was rather inauspicious; he portrayed a radio announcer in an innocuous comedy Love is on the Air (1937). He made a few more "B" programmers like Hollywood Hotel (also 1937), and Girls on Probation (1938), before getting his first prominent role opposite Bette Davis in the popular tearjerker, Dark Victory (1939).
Although he seldom got credit for being a good actor, there was no denying that Reagan held his own given the right material: Knute Rockne, All American as the doomed Notre Dame football hero George "The Gipper" Gipp, where he delivered the film's immortal line "Win one for the Gipper!"; Santa Fe Trail in which he ably supports Errol Flynn in one of the boxoffice hits of its era (both 1940); Kings Row (1941), featuring one of his finest performances as a small-town playboy whose legs are amputated by a careless surgeon; and Desperate Journey (1942) where he again supported Flynn in an exciting action picture.
Due to his poor eyesight, Reagan didn't see any action in World War II, so the studio heads assigned him to star in a series of patriotic films produced by the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces in Culver City. Between 1942-45, Reagan starred in over 400 of these films. After the war, Reagan still found some good roles: The Voice of the Turtle (1947) proved he had a deft hand at light comedy opposite Eleanor Parker; The Hasty Heart (1949) offered another underrated performance as he ably portrayed the Yank in John Patrick's much heralded wartime play; and Storm Warning (1950) was a slick melodrama that cast Reagan as a crusading District Attorney determined to bring the KKK in a small southern town, with the help of Doris Day and Ginger Rogers!
It was around this time that Reagan became involved in politics. In 1947, he began a five-year term as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and testified in October of that year before the newly formed House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He identified suspected Communists Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva and Alexander Knox, all of whom were subsequently called to testify, and subsequently blacklisted. Later records showed Reagan was so concerned about the Communist influence in Hollywood, that he became an FBI informer.
As Reagan became steeped in his political career, his parts throughout the '50s became inferior: the notorious Bedtime for Bonzo (1951); the coy "sex" comedy She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) that cast him as a college professor who romances a stripper! (Virginia Mayo); Cattle Queen of Montana (1955), a sluggish Western that even the redoubtable Barbara Stanwyck couldn't save; and finally Hellcats of the Navy (1957), a stodgy war picture that would be his only film that co-starred his wife Nancy (Davis).
Television offered some salvation. For eight years, (1954-62), Reagan served as the host of General Electric Theater, a televised series of dramas. He also found a niche as GE's goodwill ambassador to employees and to civic and business groups around the country, furthering his taste and honing his craft as a public official. By the mid '60s, Reagan would move into politics entirely, save for one last film, the thrilling The Killers (1964), Reagan's only known villainous role, as a murderous gangster. That same year, he actively campaigned for Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, although Goldwater lost to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Reagan whose profile was riding high, had cemented his future as a successful politician. In 1966, he ran against incumbent Governor Pat Brown for the state of California and won, serving successfully for two terms until 1974.
Reagan began an all-out, two-year drive to wrest the 1976 nomination from incumbent Gerald R. Ford, an appointed vice president who became president on the resignation of Nixon. Reagan fell short by a handful of delegates to the Republican national convention. But Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, and Reagan became the front-runner to challenge Carter in 1980. After defeating Carter, Reagan held two terms as President of the United States (1981-89). After his second term was over, he retired quietly in California. In 1994, it was revealed to the media that Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's disease; he had been kept out of the public eye since then.
He was married briefly to actress Jane Wyman (1940-48), and had two children; a daughter Maureen and an adopted son, Michael. In 1952, he married a budding film starlet, Nancy Davis, who bore him two more children; a daughter, Patty; and a son, Ronald Jr. Ronald Reagan is survived by Nancy, Michael, Patty and Ron Jr. His daughter Maureen died of Melanoma in 2001 at the age of 60.
by Michael T. Toole
Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004 - TCM Remembers Ronald Reagan
The only movie that Ronald and Nancy Reagan made together.
The working title of this film was Hellcats of the Sea. Before the opening credits roll, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz directly addresses the audience, outlining the plan he approved to sever the supply link between Japan and the Asiatic mainland when he was Commander and Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II, the plan that depended on "The Hellcats of the Navy." The film closes with the following epilogue written by Nimitz: "It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril." The opening credits contain the following written foreword and dedication: "We wish to express our appreciation to the Department of Defense and the United States Navy for the full cooperation extended to us in the production of this film. To the officers and the men who served aboard the Hellcat submarines during World War II this picture is dedicated."
Although Hollywood Reporter news item place Frank Bella, Oliver McGowan, Richard Cutting, Frank Chase and James Dobson in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to a December 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, the footage featuring Nimitz was shot on location in Berkeley, CA in late December-early Jan. A November 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that the location filming was done in San Diego, CA. Although a June 1956 Los Angeles Times news item notes that Edmund North was initially to have written the script, his contribution to the final film has not been determined. As noted in a 4-6 August 2000 Hollywood Reporter news item, Raymond Marcus was a pseudonym for blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon. Hellcats of the Navy was the first and only film in which future president Ronald Reagan appeared with his second wife, Nancy Davis, although the couple appeared together in several episodes of ^iGeneral Electric Theater , a television series that was hosted by Reagan, who also served as the commercial spokesman for General Electric.
Released in United States Spring May 1957
Released in United States Spring May 1957