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The Hunt for Red October

****
1990

‘…The Hunt for Red October still makes sense in a Boys’ Own way even if the hopeful world described has long vanished…’

It’s time to crack open the Clancy. Tom Clancy time, and rather than look at the boring-looking Without Remorse on Prime, we’re going back to the movie that was meant to do for submarine captains what Top Gun did for fighter pilots. What kid hasn’t dreamed of ‘doing a Ramius’ and defecting from the Soviet Union in a prototype nuclear sub due to a spiritual revelation caused by suddenly becoming a widower? Well, maybe John McTiernan’s film didn’t quite have the cultural impact that Top Gun had, nor did it kick-start a cycle of movies starring Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine and John Krasinski have collectively weakened the brand since then) But this film is really where the techno-thriller cycle starts, and while direct carry-overs are limited, The Hunt for Red October is still a highly influential film.

Clancy’s books make great beach-reads for day-dreaming boys, yet The Hunt for Red October baffled studio heads who thought the concepts were too complex for a movie. But with John McTiernan lured over from the game-changer Die Hard, there was a fresh angle to play. Thus Jack Ryan is introduced in a similar widescreen milieu of soft toys, plane-nerve remedies, airports baggage carousels and family, before Ryan takes the same long hard confrontational look at a submarine that Bruce Willis took at the Nakatomi Plaza. Similarly, McTiernan climaxes the film with some under-pressure wise-cracks and gunplay as Ryan takes on the sub’s saboteur in the sub’s missile bay. If the audience couldn’t follow every move of Ramius’ plans, at least Ryan provides an empathetic route through the narrative.

But The Hunt for Red October actually lands its big ideas; Ryan might seems like exactly the kind of ‘buckeroo’ that Ramius fears coming up against, but also fights a good fight to represent what Ramius calls ‘the right kind of American.’ What makes the right kind of American? Smarts, is the answer written on the card; Ramius is a killer, cold-bloodedly executing a potentially interfering party operative (Peter Firth) in an early, shocking scene. But he’s also a player, and the means by which he plans to thwart his bosses and deliver the sub to the US is ingenious. Like John McClane and Hans Gruber, Ryan and Ramius rarely share a frame, but everyone else gets caught up in their geo-political chess-match.

McTiernan piles on the A-grade trimmings; support from Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry and Stellan Skarsgard, a thumping score from Basil Poledouris, the immaculate lensing of Jan de Bont. And the garnish is the cartoon politics; back in 1990, Ramius’s action seemed to suggest a capitulation, an admission from the Russian side that some kind of surrender to capitalism was due (the film retains the setting of 1984). In 2021, it seems that a more virulent mutation of capitalism has resulted, so Clacny’s retro-politics seem like a soft-focus fantasy. But with no swearing, few improbabilities, lots of tough-guy acting and an engrossingly detailed narrative, The Hunt for Red October still makes sense in a Boys’ Own way even if the hopeful world described has long vanished.

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  1. I thought the Fords were really entertaining, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER was supremely good.

    • I’m planning to return and have a look, remember Clear being better than Patriot…

  2. You ever wonder why Connery had a much longer career as a toplining star than the likes of Paul Newman? Probably not. He grew a beard so not only always looked distinguished but hid the ageing neck. Connery is just terrific here, reinforcing his position as one of the all-time great stars. And it was a pretty good film too.

    • Agreed. And by this point in time, he must have wrestled back control of his career a dozen times. The whole film feels constructed around him, and that’s no bad thing. He’s probably only on screen about 30 mins but utterly dominates.

      • I think this and Indiana Jones was his big career revival. After the final Bond, his career seemed to go haywire and he was only a supporting actor in The Untouchables. It was Spielberg that brought him back to the top table, stating quite openly that Connery was one of the top three stars in the world.

  3. I find it difficult to look at baby Alec Baldwin. Also I hate the bluff he uses to convince the American sub captain to listen to him. At the time though this felt like a brilliant political film.

    • I hear you; it’s hard to believe Baldwin was ever so freshly hatched. And it does feel like some rewriting has been done to explain his pre-school appearance. I guess that bluff can be put down to his boyish brashness, but it would have been good if he didn’t have to guess, and admit he’d guessed. But it did seem like a new geo-political world at the time, it feels like we’ve regressed since 1990.

      • We didn’t predict Putin, nor the fact that, as some of my eastern european friends put it, that all the communists turned out to also be the best Capitalists! 🙁

        • Nicely put. For all it’s Red menace trappings, Red October reflects a progressive era, when we all just hoped to get along…

    • Sigh. If you paid attention, I’d paid 99p for a dvd of Red October. But paying attention isn’t your thing, eh? Completely missed Fraggle’s brilliant mini me. Back to illegally screenshotting bums for you, then.

        • I’m holding up two. In your direction. And you missed Booky’s appearance in Gateshead as well. Maybe time to admit WWI is over and get with the new Charlie Chance franchise, old codger. At least you’ll always have bums.

  4. Love the soundtrack!

    Don’t actually own any of the Jack Ryan movies though. They all stood on their own, and as you pointed out, the plethora of actors for Jack Ryan didn’t do the franchise any favors.

    When Airforce One first came out, I thought it was a Clancy adaptation. It had the same vibe.

    • I bought this on DVD since I’d never actually seen it. I’d watch it again, very smartly assembled movie and great music.

      Maybe you should play Jack Ryan in a series of films if you are so handsome.

      Airforce One is OK, but it’s more of a Die Hard rip-off. Despite the copy-cat bookends, the central narrative of Red October can’t be considered that….

      • No bluray? Not available or too pricey?

        The surveying business has my full attention these days. Helping people, helping the land, I’m doing something real and lasting. No amount of glitz and fame can do that.

        Yep, nothing copycat about Red October for sure.

  5. Clancy really was the franchise. Jack Ryan was always a bit of a nonentity. I liked this movie but only saw one of the follow-ups on the big screen.

    • Both Clancy and Jack Ryan seem to have been somewhat carelessly treated. Shame, because this movie is really good.

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