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Sunday July 22nd 2018

The Hunt For Red October | 1990

Soviet admiral Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) hijacks his own ‘invisible’ submarine and attempts to defect in this Cold War thriller adapted from a Jack Clancy novel.

By the time the film was made, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the picture was sold as ‘history’ – “But according to repeated statements by both Soviet and American governments, nothing of what you are about to see... ever happened.”

It was fortunate to have been made before sophisticated CGI became the norm, which means the mechanics of wibbling about underwater are kept to a minimum and the focus is on solidly-crafted drama.

The wintery forests of ‘Poljarny Inlet, near Murmansk in the Soviet Union’ in the opening sequence are of Port Valdez, an inlet over a hundred miles east of Anchorage in Alaska.

Once the Red October itself is seen, that’s a different story. The ‘Typhoon-class sub’ is a huge superstructure built on top of two 350-feet-long barges welded together. The production’s insurance company insisted that this massive prop could only be used within the safe confines of Los Angeles Harbor.

CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) supposedly lives in England but when he’s seen taking a flight to the US, the ‘Heathrow Airport’ signs are masking the exterior of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Ingeniously, the film’s necessary underwater scenes were filmed not in a tank but using cable-controlled models in a smoke-filled environment. The digital effects were limited creating texture with bubbles and tiny floating particles.

Filming in the horrendously cramped spaces of real submarines was out of the question so interiors for the October and America’s USS Dallas were reconstructed on Hollywood soundstages. To avoid the cheesy ‘tilting camera’ effects we loved so much in Star Trek, the sub sets were built on hydraulic gimbals capable of tilting up to 45 degrees.

The ‘US Naval Shipyards’ at ‘Patuxent, Maryland’, where Ryan consults the expertise of Skip Tyler (Jeffrey Jones) is a dry dock at the Sub Base in Point Loma near San Diego – and that’s a real nuclear submarine, with strategic details carefully hidden from the camera).

Exterior shots of the ‘USS Dallas’, captained by Commander Mancuso (Scott Glenn), including the spectacular emergency surfacing, are of USS Houston, launched in 1981 and finally decommissioned in 2016.

The transfer of Ryan from helicopter to submarine was filmed in the area of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound at Port Angeles, Washington State. The area is supposedly renowned for its mists and rain but, wouldn't you know it?, production was held up by day after day of bright sunshine.

The final scene, as Ryan and Ramius pilot the October to a hideaway supposedly on the ‘Penobscot River in Maine’, while quoting from a (totally fake) poem by Christopher Columbus, is a last-minute re-shoot.

The backdrop is Lake James, a large reservoir in the mountains of Western North Carolina, straddling the border between Burke and McDowell Counties.

In 1992, Lake James went on to double as ‘Lake George, New York’ for Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, with Daniel Day Lewis.

The Naval Undersea Museum, an official naval museum in Keyport, Washington State, houses the half-scale model of the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) built for the film.

‘Russian’ scenes were filmed at Sessions House, a courtroom in Liverpool, England. The snowy exteriors don’t seem to have made the final cut, and neither have scenes shot in the Function Room of the familiar Park Plaza Hotel, 607 South Park View Street, midtown Los Angeles.