War Movie Mondays: ‘The Hunt for Red October’

This week’s pick is the John McTiernan thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990). Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, and James Earl Jones star in this Cold War classic about a Soviet naval commander and a new invincible Soviet sub which threatens peace between the two super powers.

Set in early 1984 before Gorbachev came to power as the new Soviet premier, the new ballistic missile submarine Red October sets sail from port in the arctic and makes its way to the north Atlantic for a training exercise. Its captain, Marko Ramius (Connery) selects his officers and the crew for a daring mission that they believe will test the might of their old adversary, The United States navy.

The Red October is equipped with a new type of propulsion system, a caterpillar drive, which renders the sub virtually silent to sonar. This feature and its nuclear payload, represent a clear and present danger to U.S. policy in the north Atlantic at the height of Cold War tensions between both the U.S and Soviet Union.

CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is summoned from London by his former boss and friend Admiral James Greer, Deputy director of intelligence at the CIA (James Earl Jones) as to why Red October has set sail and what its intentions are. Once U.S. intelligence deciphers Intel from the Soviets, the president’s National Security advisor and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that Ramius may launch a surprise nuclear strike against the continental U.S. Ryan has a different theory, what if Ramius and a small contingent of his officers want to defect?

Ryan proposes the idea that Ramius is using the sub as a means to not only carry him to asylum, but to surrender the technology over to the Americans. Ryan is sent by Jeffrey Pelt (Richard Jordon) to find out whether or not his theory is sound. Ryan has just two days until the U.S. navy launches a search and destroy mission if Red October comes within firing range of the United States.

As Ryan is flown to an aircraft carrier in the north Atlantic, Ramius dines with his officers and informs them of his intentions to indeed defect to the Americans. One of Ramius’s adjutants protests the death of a political officer who threatened Ramius’s plans to turn the sub over to the Americans. Ramius’s XO captain Vasily Borodin (Neill) fears that other crewmembers may threaten the mission as well.

One of the many amazing parts of the film is when Ryan is flown from the American aircraft carrier aboard a helicopter to an intercept point in the north Atlantic to board an American sub, the U.S.S. Dallas which detected the Red October and quickly lost it once its silent engines were engaged.

The ships captain, Bart Mancuso (Glenn) is told by Ryan that they are in pursuit of a new Soviet sub and that the captain plans to defect. Mancuso doesn’t believe Ryan’s theory and once again they make contact with Red October. Ryan convinces Ramius through the periscope that they know about his plans and are willing to help him before the U.S. and other Soviet forces move in to destroy him.

The Hunt for Red October was an absolute smash hit at the box office and generated over five hundred million dollars worldwide. When principle photography began in 1989, the cast and crew spent many months designing elaborate sets on the soundstages at Paramount Studios to give the appearance of authenticity to the American and Soviet subs.

John McTiernan (fresh from success with the smash hit Die Hard) was brought in as the film’s bankable director. The film was based off of Tom Clancy’s award winning book of the same name. The film’s amazing screenplay was written by Larry Ferguson (Chief of the boat Watson, U.S.S. Dallas), and Donald Stewart. Director/writer John Milius was un-credited as the third screenwriter whose amazing dialogue is heard throughout the entire film.

When the production wrapped in late 1989, early 1990, the Soviet Union was on the brink of falling. Fearing that the new Cold War thriller would quickly become irrelevant, the screenwriters decided to set the film several years prior when there was still a plausible threat from the former Soviet Union.

The Hunt for Red October is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc through Paramount Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.

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