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I would like to identify a movie I saw maybe 30 years ago.

It is about a stubborn WW2 captain who is demoted and put in charge of an old tugboat in some backwaters. He still tries to make the best of it and turns the boat and apathetic crew into a formidable war machine, finally seeing some action.

There is a particular scene where, chronometer in hand, he puts the boat and crew through extreme torpedo evasion manoeuvre drills, until the crew is able to do it in under a certain amount of time.

It's probably in color and has similar style and contents as "Mr. Roberts" with Henry Fonda as captain, or "Operation Petticoat" with Cary Grant commanding a decrepit pink submarine. I checked the filmography of various late 50's early 60's Hollywood Navy captain candidates such as Fonda, Grant, Stewart, Wayne and Holden without luck. This has been bothering me for 30 years..

Possible addition 1: the captain has the boat nearly dismantled to the crew's dismay, so as to lighten it for performance reasons. This memory could be mixed with the German John Wayne captain who cannibalizes his own ship for extra fuel to escape the allied posse in another great movie.

Possible addition 2: later in the film the tugboat narrowly escapes a couple of torpedoes, though this scene is very common in war movies. Possible inconsistency here: why would a sub waste two torpedoes on an old tugboat?

It's not "Away All Boats" and it isn't "The Cruel Sea", either.

EDIT: It's not The Key (1958), Run Silent Run Deep (1958)

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I believe I've seen the same movie and I am trying to find it as well. Please tell me if any of this rings a bell. IIRC it's set at the beginning of WW2. There are two tugboat/fishing boat/something captains who are in competition with one another. The older captain and his daughter gets the younger captain to sign up with the navy by spreading rumors he is a coward. The younger captain gets drafted, and the older captain thinks he wins. But then the older captains boat gets torpedoed/destroyed by a submarine and he has no option then but to join the navy himself. He joins as a navy captain, b –  Chris Nov 28 '13 at 0:29
    
He joins as a navy captain, but gets demoted for some reason to an ordinary sailor, where he finds himself stuck with the younger captain. I remember one scene where he is down in the hold scraping the wooden beams of the boat he is stationed on with another sailor (who could be the other captain, I can't remember). He hates submarines because of the destruction of his boat, but I cannot remember any scenes with him drilling his crew against torpedo attacks. It's an old black and white movie. I've only seen the first half hour/hour so this is all I remember. Does any of this sound familiar? –  Chris Nov 28 '13 at 5:50
    
No, it does not sound familiar. It's a tale of one captain only, I think. And the extreme rudder maneuvers with engines belching out black smoke and possibly sparks and crew pushed to its limits are an early highlight of the movie. Adding 3 new hints to description above... –  Mayavimmer Nov 28 '13 at 10:20
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Some of your plot (addition 3) is from Murphy's War with Peter O'Toole imdb.com/title/tt0067458 –  dav1dsm1th Nov 29 '13 at 23:08
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@dav1dsm1th yes, checked Murphy's war and it does reflect the 3rd addition. Thanks. +1 helpful so I can eliminate the 3rd addition. Nice movie too. –  Mayavimmer Dec 1 '13 at 23:55

4 Answers 4

I believe this could the movie "Run Silent, Run Deep", with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. While the captain is not demoted, he is the only survivor of a sub attack on his ship.

He gets placed in command of a new ship, displacing the Lieutenant who was slated to become the captain, and he does run them through extremely rigorous and gripping submarine drills.

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it was a surface ship, probably a tugboat as I mentioned, puffing large clouds of black smoke and turning desperately to avoid torpedoes. –  Mayavimmer Nov 22 '13 at 22:27
    
Ok, checked it out. It's definitely not it. –  Mayavimmer Nov 23 '13 at 0:44

Could it be "Murphy's War" Made in 1971?

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dav1dsm1th already suggested it. It's not it. –  Mayavimmer Jun 29 at 22:52

Check to see if it is the movie The Key (1958) with William Holden, Trevor Howard and Sophia Loren.

It's set early 1940's war of the Atlantic. An american is sent over to Britain to work on one of the navy's rescue tugboat to help save liberty ships once the have been attacked by German u boats. Lots of scenes with a tug running drills. Also a love story mixed in.

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This looks like it could be the right answer, but can you maybe add a short plot summary to your post so people don't have to look it up to verify? –  Crow T Robot Sep 11 at 3:59
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It's set early 1940's war of the Atlantic. An american is sent over to Britain to work on one of the navy's rescue tugboat to help save liberty ships once the have been attacked by German u boats. Lots of scenes with a tug running drills. Also a love story mixed in. –  user13732 Sep 11 at 4:39
    
@user13732 It's not The Key. –  Mayavimmer Sep 24 at 19:16

I'm almost embarrassed to post this because it seems so far off, but there have been so many attempts, so what the heck: John Ford's Submarine Patrol is from 1938, it's about WWI and it's in black-and-white. But its description is dead on:

Preston S. Foster [is] a naval officer demoted for dereliction of duty. He is forced to commandeer a battered old submarine chaser and its ragtag crew. Anxious to redeem himself, Foster transforms his loser underlings into a crack combat team, chalking up numerous enemy sinkings. Richard Greene costars as Foster's junior officer, a rich wastrel who matures into a worthwhile individual during his tour of duty.

Here's a (rather battered) clip with that 'rich wastrel'. The boat itself and the crew appear around 2:07:

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