Grey Lady Down - Grey Lady Down(blu ray) [Powerhouse - 2021]
The 1970s certainly was the decade of the disaster movie, be it man-made or when nature attacks. Literally, every situation, form of travel, building, or scenario had the possibility for the destruction, death, and the bonding together of a group of strangers that was the disaster genre tropes. Grey Lady Down took the disaster genre to the bottom of the sea, as a group of folks- including Charlton Heston get stuck in a nuclear sub, waiting for the weight of water to crush them. The film is an effective example of the genre, with the sub setting making for a great claustrophobic and tense location for disaster- the cast is filled out with some big names like Stacy Keach, David Carradine, and Ned Beatty. Here from Powerhouse is a recent blu ray release- featuring a new scan of the picture, a commentary track, a selection of old and new extras.
Grey Lady Down (aka S.O.S. submarino nuclear) appeared in the year 1978. It was helmed by Manchester-born David Greene, who had genre varied and large filmography of ninety titles as director, twenty credits as a producer, and twelve acting credits. His feature-length debut was The Shuttered Room (1967), a dread-filled gothic psychodrama featuring Oliver Reed. With other notable feature lengths been uneasy psychological thriller- meets coming of age drama I Start Counting (1969), drug addiction melodrama The People Next Door (1970)- this recently got a Powerhouse release, and 70’s musical take on the Gospel of St. Matthew Godspell (1973). Pretty much any genre Greene turned his hand to was a great and well-made example of its genre, and Grey Lady Down is another prime example of this.
The film kicks off with Capt Paul Blanchard (Heston) on his final mission before retirement, getting ready to bring the USS Neptune, a nuclear submarine, into dock at New London, Connecticut. The sub surfaces, but it’s a very foggy night- unfortunately nearby is a large Norwegian ship, and their radar has flailed- meaning it crashes into the sub. Sending it down one thousand and four hundred feet to on a ledge, where rockslides often happen and is near to a huge drop.
From the off we get some quite nasty injuries- bloody and battered bodies, face scaldings, downing and later on flooded and floating death. This with the addition of the claustrophobic, slowly closing in and oxygen reducing sub setting- makes for at times a grim and tense ride.
Initially, Heston is seemingly an unflappable hero of the piece, trying to keep hopeful and the morale of his men up, but as the film unfolds, and things get worse- flooding areas of the sub, his crew dying, air thinning, and men physically and mental breaking- his focus/ courage starts to falter- with him giving a well-balanced portrayal of someone in charge this type of situation. Down in the sub, we have a good and believable crew- we have Ronny Cox as Helston’s second in command Cmdr.Samuelson, who is critical of Heston decisions. And younger flute playing seaman Danny - Stephen McHattie- who also appeared in Greene impactful family drama The People Next Door(1970). Up above the water trying to save the crew of USS Neptune- we have Capt Bennet (Stacy Keach), Capt Gates(a bearded David Carradine)- with supporting roles from the likes of Ned Beatty as Mickey, and fleeting glances of Christopher ‘superman; Reeves as Phillips.
The film slides in at the one hour and fifty-minute mark, and while there could have been a slight snip here and there, the picture largely remains compelling and at points decidedly tense- with the action/ unfold seemingly largely believable/ feasible- unlike some of the decade's disaster films- so all in all Grey Lady Down is a great example of the 70’s disaster genre.
Moving onto this new region B Blu Ray- and we get a nice new HD scan of the film, really bringing up the 70’s celluloid well. We get a commentary from film historian Peter Tonguette- and this is a rather thoughtful and low-key track, though he makes some interesting observations. He starts off discussing the film’s opening sun to sea zoom shot, which cleverly makes the point that much of the film will take place below the sea. As we move on, he discusses why he thinks the film stands above common garden 70’s disaster films. He comments on the shot set-ups, and how they highlight the feeling of a truly balanced sub crew, building tensions, and acting dynamics. He moves on to talk about how and why the film is such a well-balanced ensemble piece, highlighting the talents of casting director Lynn Stalmaster. He discusses Heston's career at this point, comments on certain scenes and how the actors handle them, and more. So certainly, it’s a track worth a play.
Moving onto other new extras- and we get Lady’s Man- a twelve-minute on-screen interview with Stacy Keach, and he fondly remembers being on the film- discussing working with the film’s other actors, acting out at sea near San Diego. Next, we have The Changing Tide- an eight-minute audio interview with actor Stephen McHattie- where he discusses work with the cast and director Greene. We have Plumbing the Depths- a forty-one-minute onscreen interview with film historian and former Navy officer Alan K Rode on the US Navy Submarine Rescue Program- where he discusses the development of the submarine rescue program, and the pieces of kit used in Grey Lady Down.
On the archive side of things, we have a seventy-five minute Guardian audio interview with Charlton Heston from 1985. Radio spots, trailers, and image galleries. With the finished release comes with a 32-page booklet with a new essay by Omar Ahmed, archival articles on the film, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits.
So, it’s wonderful to see this well-acted and tense disaster-come submarine action film getting the Powerhouse treatment- with a great new print, worthy commentary, and rewarding new/ old extras on boardRoger Batty