Down Periscope

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Down Periscope
Down periscope.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid S. Ward
Produced byRobert Lawrence
Screenplay byHugh Wilson
Andrew Kurtzman
Eliot Wald
Story byHugh Wilson
Music byRandy Edelman
CinematographyVictor Hammer
Edited byWilliam M. Anderson
Armen Minasian
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 1, 1996 (1996-03-01)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[1]
Box office$37,553,752[2]

Down Periscope is a 1996 American military comedy submarine film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Robert Lawrence and directed by David S. Ward, that stars Kelsey Grammer, Lauren Holly, and Rob Schneider. The film co-stars Bruce Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, William H. Macy, and Rip Torn.

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge fights to save his naval career while also being saddled with a group of misfit seamen brought together as the crew of his first command, USS Stingray, a rusty, obsolete World War II-era diesel submarine recommissioned to participate in a special naval war game.


Lt. Commander Thomas Dodge is being considered for a third time to captain a submarine. He has been previously passed over because of his unorthodox command methods, a "brushing" incident with a Russian submarine, and a genital tattoo that he acquired afterward while drunk on shore leave. Another denial will result in Dodge's being dropped from the Navy's submarine corp. command program. Rear Admiral Yancy Graham, who dislikes Dodge, speaks out against Dodge's promotion.

Vice Admiral Dean Winslow, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic, likes Dodge and his unorthodox methods. He taps the Lt. Commander to participate in a war game to test the Navy's defenses against attack from diesel-powered submarines that Russia has been selling off to America's adversaries. Dodge is given command of the World War II-era Balao-class diesel-powered submarine, USS Stingray, with orders to "invade" Charleston harbor without being detected, and if successful, to sink a dummy ship in Norfolk harbor using two live torpedoes. Dodge is reluctant to participate, but he offers Winslow a wager: If he successfully completes the given tasks, Winslow will give him a nuclear submarine to command. The admiral agrees to seriously consider it if Dodge succeeds, telling Dodge to "throw out the book" and "think like a pirate" during the exercise.

Graham, whilst boasting about how he has never lost a war game, handpicks the "crew from hell" for Stingray: hot-tempered, uptight Lt. Martin Pascal as the executive officer; crusty civilian naval contractor Howard as the chief engineer; rebellious Engineman 1st Class Brad Stepanek; sharp-eared Sonarman 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli; compulsive gambler Seaman Stanley "Spots" Sylvesterson; former college basketball player Seaman Jefferson "R.J." Jackson; shock-addled Electrician's Mate Nitro; and not-so-Culinary Specialist Second Class Buckman, as Stingray's cook. Lt. Emily Lake is assigned by Graham to serve as the sub's diving officer, part of a "special program" to see if women can successfully serve aboard submarines.

Using unorthodox tactics and taking full advantage of an Atlantic storm, Dodge and his crew are able to sneak into Charleston Harbor and set off signal flares. Upset at losing the first part of the war game, Graham reduces the game's containment area by half without Winslow's authorization. Failing to penetrate Norfolk Harbor, Dodge leaves the containment area, heads out to sea, and cuts off all contact with the Navy. Pascal openly accuses Dodge of hijacking his own boat and attempts to relieve him of command. Stingray's crew, fed up with his beratement, refuse to support his action, so Dodge charges Pascal with attempted mutiny. On deck, wearing mock-buccaneer outfits and speaking like pirates, the crew and Lake look on as Dodge sentences the blindfolded Pascal to walk the plank (into the raised net of a waiting fishing trawler that will take him ashore).

Graham, hellbent on apprehending Dodge, assumes personal command of submarine USS Orlando, upon which Dodge had previously served as executive officer. Dodge employs an incredibly dangerous maneuver that involves carefully passing the sub through the active baffles of a commercial super tanker to avoid the sonar of the naval ships and aircraft protecting the approach to Norfolk. Orlando eventually locates and chases down Stingray. By the time his boat is "targeted", Dodge has already fired two live torpedoes at 900 yards (820 m) into the target ship at Norfolk, winning the war game for Stingray.

Returning to port, Graham is chastised by Admiral Winslow for trying to undermine Dodge's success, and denied a promotion. Winslow informs Dodge that he will now be given the command of a new Seawolf-class submarine, along with a "proper crew" to man her. Dodge respectfully requests that his entire Stingray crew be transferred with him, after which he dismisses his crew to begin a well-earned shore leave. As Dodge and Lake leave the dock, she poses a query now that they know each other: "What is this 'tattoo' I keep hearing about"?


Production notes[edit]

The name of the film is a play on the title of the 1959 World War II drama Up Periscope and spoofs several titles in the submarine film subgenre, including the Cold War drama The Hunt for Red October.[3]

Down Periscope began shooting on May 6, 1995, and finished on July 27.[4]

USS Pampanito, a Balao-class submarine from World War II, now a museum ship and memorial in San Francisco, played the part of USS Stingray. The nearby Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet stood in for Naval Station Norfolk.

The film makes use of both standard US Navy stock footage and scenes shot specifically for the film. The target ship that is torpedoed and sunk, ending the film's war game, is both naval stock footage of the USS Fletcher and a prop shooting miniature. Fletcher was one of the most decorated ships in US Navy history. Over the closing credits, a music video is shown of the Village People and the film's cast performing "In the Navy" aboard Stingray.


Down Periscope had its US theatrical release on March 1, 1996.[4] The film grossed $25,785,603 domestically and $37,553,752 worldwide. The film was released five months later on home video on August 6, 1996.[4]


Variety wrote, "The makers of Police Academy and Major League team up to take on the submarine corps [...] and the result is a testosterone comedy that’s crude fun, with a pinch of corn-pone morality. It’s good-natured, innocuous frivolity that should raise a few smiles..." However, Stephen Holden of The New York Times felt, "The tone of the acting, which is set by Mr. Grammer's blandly laid-back performance, is all wrong for a genre that demands over-the-top hamming". Holden also wrote that the film does manage to provide "a couple of amusing bits", but "The energy level of Down Periscope is so low that moments like these, which should flare hilariously, reach a wan flicker".[5] At the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 12% from 33 reviews, with an average rating 3.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Down Periscope takes audiences on an aimless voyage for aquatic hijinks, proving there really aren't any effective sub-stitutes for a well-written script."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Down Periscope | PowerGrid". 1996-03-01. Archived from the original on 2015-07-15. Retrieved 2015-07-14.
  2. ^ Down Periscope at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Chapman, James. War and Film. Reaktion Books, 2008, p. 229.
  4. ^ a b c TCM Notes Misc. Notes
  5. ^ "Down Periscope". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2017.
  6. ^ Down Periscope at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]