When I heard that Tom Hanks was starring in a movie about the battle of the North Atlantic in World War II, for some reason I thought of that Progressive insurance commercial. The one featuring the coach who teaches new homeowners not to become their parents. It has a scene with a guy reading a novel about submarines, and the punchline is “you know who else reads books about submarines...your Dad.”
I’ve always been a history buff and especially of the WWII era. I remember my preteen self reading just about every book about the War in my small local Massachusetts library. This book interest eventually would change to rock and roll biographies for me, but I was more than interested in this new Hanks film.
Greyhound was made for a theater release, but the pandemic put a stop to that and Apple flashed the cash needed to buy the rights. It seems like Greyhound is Apple’s version of Disney's Hamilton (see our review at tinyurl.com/zubmyshot) as far as trying to get people to sign on to their services. They could do a lot worse than Tom Hanks as their flag bearer.
Greyhound the movie is a straightforward affair. It’s a fictional tale with a lot of realistic elements, based on C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd, written in 1955. Hanks plays Captain Ernest Krause, commander of the Fletcher class destroyer USS Keeling (radio call sign Greyhound) on his first trip across the Atlantic. Krause is shown as a good and devoutly Christian man. There is an intro scene on the West Coast, showing Krauses’ bride-to-be Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue) in December 1941. We then move immediately to the convoy action in late 1942.
At this early point in the war, Britain was cut off from supplies, and relied on these convoys to move food, medicine, military items, rubber, and oil among other essentials. The so-called ‘Battle Of The Atlantic’ as shown here, really involved a supply chain. Knause is in overall command of the escorting of 37 defenseless merchant ships, aided by two British destroyers and one Canadian. Once sailing beyond the range of airplane cover, they enter the so-called ‘Black Pit,’ a five day area with no air cover until they get closer to Britain. This ‘Pit’ was the area that the German U-Boats (submarines) plied, often working in groups together called ‘Wolf Packs.’
Once we get past the short intro, Greyhound is pretty much a non-stop action movie. The USS Keeling and the other destroyers are spread thin trying to defend against the U-Boats, who quickly sink five merchant ships. Night time is especially terrifying, with the escorts having no visual contact with the U-Boats basically running free among them.
There is a surprising amount of technology on these destroyers. They have above sea and below sonar, and experienced listening capabilities. Of course, being 1942, the sonar sometimes quits inexplicably or gets frozen in the North Atlantic. The U-boats have their own tricks, including the Pillinwerfer, a large canister filled with gas that would circle around in the water and sound and look/sound like a U-Boat propellor screw, causing the destroyers to waste their depth charges while the actual U-Boat gets away.
This is an action packed movie, and still after seeing so many submarine films, the shot of a speeding torpedo headed towards a ship is terrifying. Kudos to Hanks (in his screenplay) for not showing what’s going on inside the U-Boats. They are just silent, unknowable sentinels and very, very scary. Hanks knows it’s not a submarine movie, it’s a convoy escort movie.
I’m not going to go into any more spoilers, let’s just say that if this period of history interests you, or you’re a Hanks buddy like I am, you need to see Greyhound. Extremely well done and reverent about it's topic, it’s only 90 minutes and packs a lot in. The movie ends with a note that over 3500 ships were sunk in the North Atlantic in WWII. There’s not much more to say after that.