Thursday, November 30, 2006

The USS Copperfin's Historical Value

I watched Destination Tokyo last night and was absolutely thrilled to hear the actual wartime tribute to those brave submariners being announced at the end of the film. I was unaware, until then, that the film had actually been produced and released during WWII for the war effort.

The 1943 B&W movie combines a few of the amazing feats and exploits we wave all heard about, including an emergency appendectomy (actually happened twice: Pharmacist's Mate
Wheeler Lipes had just performed that emergency surgery in 1942 using makeshift instruments aboard the USS Seadragon on submerged patrol in the South China Sea; and, on the USS Silversides SS236, Pharmacist's mate Thomas Mooere removed George Platter's appendix 150 feet below the ocean's surface. Photographs of Platter's surgery are on display in that submarine at Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum in Muskegon). The film also depicts a secret mission infiltrating far beyond where our surface ships and aircraft could operate. There is more, but no reason to spoil it for you.

The operation of the submarine depicted in this movie were later used as a Navy training film during World War II, although belowdecks scenes were shot on unrealistically spacious soundstages. The Copperfin was a fictitious, Gato-class submarine, upgrades to WWI vintage S-boats and Tambor-class submarines available at the start of WWII.

Cary Grant starred as the recently promoted (O-5) skipper. John Forsythe made his big screen debut as a submarine sailor! Alan Hale Sr. the father of lookalike actor Alan Hale Jr., ("the Skipper" on Gilligan's Island) plays the cook in this one! Bill Kennedy (Superman series voice) stars as the navigator. He is no relation to actor George Kennedy, now living near
Bubblehead in Boise.

Erick Harper says, "Timeline issues and a few schmaltzy moments aside, Destination Tokyo is a first-rate submarine flick. There is a lot of plot and plenty of action, so that even at 135 minutes in length the movie never really seems to drag. Read his whole review, but here is one excerpt:

[A] quintessential example of Hollywood's wartime efforts to combine good filmmaking with good citizenship. Yes, there is a lot of pro-American anti-Japanese propaganda here, make no mistake. It is couched in some more enlightened terms than you might expect, however. There is little actual racism employed, but rather a sense that the Japanese are people victimized by a rotten system of militarism. Grant's character spells this out in a speech where he talks about stopping a system that "puts daggers into the hands of five-year-olds," and instead creating a world where the youngsters will play with roller skates, just like their good old all-American counterparts.

No proud submariner should be unfamiliar with Destination Tokyo. For a selection of other submarine movies, browse The American Submarine: A Select Filmography & Bibliography from the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum.


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