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This article is about the 1951 film. For other meanings see frogman.
The Frogmen
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Produced by Samuel G. Engel
Written by John Tucker Battle
(story)
Oscar Millard
Starring Richard Widmark
Dana Andrews
Gary Merrill
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Editing by William Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) June 29, 1951 (U.S. release)
Running time 96 min.
Language English

The Frogmen is a 1951 black-and-white film made by Twentieth Century Fox. It is based on some United States frogman operations against the Japanese Army and naval forces in World War II. It was the first such movie about scuba diving and became a popular cultural hit.

The film opens with this written statement: "This is a true story based on incidents which occurred in the latter part of World War II. It deals with one of the most hazardous and unique branches of the Armed Forces...the Underwater Demolition Teams. This film could not have been produced without the active cooperation of the Department of Defense and the United States Navy." Underwater Demolition Teams, whose members were nicknamed "frogmen", have been used since World War II for reconnaissance duties, clearing underwater obstacles planted by the enemy, advance landings on beaches, and offensive underwater attacks on enemy ships. The U.S. aquatic forces eventually became the Navy SEALs.

Contents

Plot

During World War II, in the South West Pacific theatre, Lt. Cmdr. John Lawrence (Richard Widmark), a strict disciplinarian, is put in charge of the elite U.S. Navy unit UDT-4 after their former leader, Lt. Cmdr. Jack Cassidy, is killed. The men are distrustful of the standoffish Lawrence, and the relationship immediately takes a turn for the worse when Lawrence berates them for brawling with sailors aboard their transport. The ship's captain, Lt. Cmdr. Pete Vincent (Gary Merrill), advises Lawrence to go easier on the men, who are often sent on dangerous complicated missions to clear landing sites of underwater obstacles. Lawrence refuses to indulge the team, however, and earns their enmity when he splits up the platoon for a reconnaissance mission, putting edgy Chief Jake Flannigan (Dana Andrews) in charge of the more dangerous side of the enemy-held island.

During the mission, whose objective is to ascertain the most favorable area of the island for the landing of U.S. forces, Lawrence cuts his leg on coral, and one of the pick-up boats receives a direct hit from artillery. Lawrence sees that Flannigan and Kinsella, a wounded combat swimmer from the destroyed boat, are still in the water, but rather than risk loss of the information he has already gathered, he orders his boat to return to the main ship. A rescue boat succeeds in picking up the embittered Flannigan and Kinsella, but Lawrence's seemingly heartless action increases the men's ill will toward him. Flannigan and some of the others request transfers to another unit, but Lawrence insists that they complete the next day's mission to clear the landing site for the invasion.

The next morning, Lawrence, who is sick with coral poisoning, does not reveal his illness when he puts Flannigan in charge of the mission and stays behind. Assuming that Lawrence is a coward, the men angrily but efficiently complete their task, although "Pappy" Creighton, whose brother is a U.S. Marine, sneaks onto the beach with Flannigan to leave a sign "welcoming" the Marines. Creighton is shot leaving the beach, and Flannigan tows him to the pick-up boat. Back on the ship, Creighton is put in traction because of the bullets in his spine, and Flannigan confesses to Lawrence that their prank caused Creighton's injuries. Lawrence furiously upbraids Flannigan for his irresponsible behavior, and soon all of the men request transfers.

While Lawrence is discussing the transfer requests with Vincent, a torpedo hits the ship but does not explode. Lawrence volunteers to disarm the torpedo, which has lodged in the sick bay next to Creighton's bed, and with Flannigan's help, succeeds. Soon after, Lawrence receives orders to blow up a Japanese submarine pen, and tells the men that although it will be their last mission together, as he will request a transfer himself, he is proud to have served with them.

Despite Flannigan's suspicion that Lawrence will again pull light duty, Lawrence leads the mission, which is endangered when one of the men accidentally trips a signal wire. Japanese sentries shoot at the men as they plant the charges, and the men are forced into hand-to-hand combat with Japanese divers. Lawrence is stabbed during one fierce encounter, and although he orders Flannigan to leave him behind because he will hinder Flannigan's escape, Flannigan tows him to safety. The mission is a success, and soon Lawrence is recuperating beside Creighton. Finally won over by Lawrence's bravery, the men show their acceptance of him by asking him to sign the portrait they have drawn of Cassidy to present to his widow.

Credited cast

Errata

In the last operation (destruction of a Japanese submarine pen), the frogmen correctly wear drysuits, but they were shown using open-circuit aqualungs, but actually they would have used rebreathers to prevent detection on the surface from streams of exhaled bubbles. That use of aqualungs is also likely anachronistic (see Timeline of underwater technology#1943), since the Cousteau aqualung was unknown (except to a few men in France) until after World War II.

In all their previous missions they were shown diving without breathing sets, surfacing for every breath, whereas actually they would have used their rebreathers.

Production notes

Producer Paul Short of Allied Artists protested the use of the title The Frogmen by Twentieth Century-Fox, asserting that he had established prior claim to it. Eventually Short dropped his claim and Twentieth Century-Fox was allowed to use the title. Short's production was never made. Several major studios were interested in producing films about the Underwater Demolition Teams, but only Twentieth Century-Fox obtained an exclusive guarantee of cooperation from the U.S. Navy.

Henry Hathaway, one of the studio's most well received directors, was originally set to direct the picture, which was to feature Millard Mitchell in a starring role. Richard Conte was also originally set to play "Pete Vincent," Jack Elam was first cast as "Sleepy", and Craig Hill was set to play "Lt. J. G. Franklin." Assistant director Dick Mayberry briefly filled in for director Lloyd Bacon when Bacon fell ill with the flu.

Producer Sam Engel wrote an original story entitled "Frogmen in Korea" as an intended follow-up to The Frogmen, but the project soon dissolved. A one-hour television remake of The Frogmen, entitled Deep Water, was broadcast in May 1957 on the 20th Century-Fox Hour. The program was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred Ralph Meeker (Lawrence), James Whitmore (Flannigan), and Richard Arlen (Vincent).

Because working conditions were deemed too "riotous" for women, all female roles were written out of the script. No actresses appeared in the completed picture. Jack Warden also makes an uncredited appearance as a crew member of the transport ship. Co-star Gary Merrill, in the role of the captain of UDT-4's transport, delivers a line ("Looks like you've got what amounts a legal mutiny on your hands.") virtually identical to one he spoke in Twelve O'Clock High three years earlier.

Filming of the submarine sequence took place from the deck of USS Kleinsmith (APD-134) while off Key West on 11 January 1951, and much of the boat and high-speed transport scenes were shot from Kleinsmith while off St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, between 15 January and 6 February 1951. (Source: U.S.S. Kleinsmith deck log entries, National Archives and Records Administration.) The USS Taconic (AGC-17) appeared as the command ship.

Many Navy SEALs have cited this movie as their inspiration to join the SEAL Teams; including Richard Marcinko, and Dennis Chalker.

External links

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