What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
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Call it being on a “roll” if you will, but it just so happens this is the third movie recently about which I’ve written where communism plays a major role. The first two were set in the 1960s, one being a clumsy comedy about an inept Air National Guard unit, the second centers on the East v. West “proxy war” known as Vietnam.
“The Hunt For Red October” is set in the “Cold War” era of my youth, the mid-1980s. The first two decades of my life were spent on the front lines of the “Cold War” having spent a great deal of that time growing up on bases belonging to the U.S. Air Forces’ Strategic Air Command. After that, I went to college in a town with an Air Force Base which would have been the absolute first place to get hit in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. In other words, I was never far from enough nuclear weapons to turn the entire planet into a glass-floored, self-lighting parking lot.
That might explain my odd obsession with communism and the “Cold War.” That also makes me rather cognizant of the fact that a lot of people younger than me may not see this film in the same context I do.
The movie opens in November 1984 with Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius (played by Sean Connery) taking the new Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine out for it’s sea trials. Christened the “Red October,” this ship represents a major and dangerous advance in submarine technology, specifically a stealth “caterpillar drive” which makes it nearly impossible to detect with sonar.
Ramius sets sail to conduct these exercises along with the Alfa-class attack submarine Konovalov, which is commanded by his former student Captain Tupolev (played by Stellan Skarsgård).
The first clue that this will be anything but a regular “shakedown cruise” comes when Ramius kills the ship’s political officer and tells the crew their mission is to conduct missile drills off America’s east coast. At the same time, the U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Dallas is on a mission identifying and shadowing Soviet subs as they leave port. Dallas immediately detects Red October as it begins its mission, but loses contact once the sub’s caterpillar drive is engaged.
The next morning, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (played by Alec Baldwin) and Vice Admiral James Greer (played by James Earl Jones) brief government officials on Red October and the threat it poses. The immediate feeling among the government officials is Ramius plans a renegade nuclear strike on the United States. They also learn that the Soviet Navy has been deployed to the Atlantic to find and sink the submarine. During the briefing, Ryan hypothesizes that Ramius instead plans to defect, and National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt (played by Richard Jordan) gives Ryan three days to confirm his theory and is sent to an aircraft carrier in the mid-Atlantic. Meanwhile, even though Captian Tupolev is unable to track Red October, he plays a hunch and orders the Konovalov on a course to intercept Ramius.
Things get more complicated when it is discovered the there is a saboteur aboard Red October, The crucial caterpillar drive is made to malfunction, which makes the ship detectable once again. This is when a sonar technician aboard Dallas named Petty Officer Jones (played by Courtney B. Vance) discovers a way he can track Red October using his underwater acoustics software. The prompts the USS Dallas’ skipper Commander Bart Mancuso (played by Scott Glenn) to plot his own course to head off Red October. Ryan then persuades Admiral Greer (played by Fred Dalton Thompson) to arrange a risky mid-ocean transfer to get Ryan aboard Dallas in order to convince Mancuso that Ramius intends to defect.
While the stage is being set for what could be a massive naval confrontation, back in Washington the Soviet ambassador Andrei Lysenko (played by Joss Ackland) informs National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt Ramius is a renegade and asks the Americans to help find and sink Red October. An order is dispatched to the U.S. fleet to do exactly that.
Dallas also receives that order, which now has found Red October. Onboard Dallas, Ryan is still convinced Ramius plans to defect. He convinces Mancuso to contact Ramius and offer assistance. While Ramius is surprised the Americans have determined his plan, he accepts their help.
To get the crew off Red October, Ramius stages a fake nuclear reactor emergency, using the idea of radiation contamination as a reason to order the crew to abandon ship. Then a U.S. Navy frigate appears. which is still under orders to attack Red October. Ramius submerges his ship, and soon Ryan, Mancuso, and, Jones board the Red October via a rescue sub.
Ramius presents Mancuso with the Red October, and asks for asylum in America for himself and his officers. But two things happen at this point. The saboteur who attacked the caterpillar drive announces himself with a burst of fire from an AK-47 into the bridge, mortally wounding Red October’s first officer Vasily Borodin (played by Sam Neill). Known as one of Red October’s cooks, Loginov (played by Tomas Arana) is actually a GRU agent (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye); the foreign-intelligence service of the Soviet military.
As such, while Loginov is trying to prevent Ramius’ handing over the Red October, it comes under attack from Tupolev and the Konovalov. While Mancuso and Ramius do battle with Tupolev, Loginov retreats into the Red October’s missile bay where he attempts to detonate a nuclear warhead and incinerate the ship. Ryan kills Loginov before he accomplishes his goal, and the Konovalov is destroyed by a torpedo. The resultant explosion leaves the Red October’s crew to believe Ramius scuttled the Red October to avoid being boarded; they are unaware of the presence of the second Soviet submarine.
The film closes with Ramius still aboard the Red October explaining to Ryan the reason for his defection.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
All Captain Ramius wanted to do was get to America. He wasn’t alone in his desire to escape communism. That’s why the Berlin Wall existed, that’s why the “boat people” exodus happened from Vietnam, and that’s why every year there are hundreds of attempts to drift from Cuba across the Florida Straits on everything from inner-tubes lased together to the chassis of a 60-year old pickup truck with empty oil drums welded to it.
Unlike all those people in Cuba plying the Atlantic in rudimentary improvised craft, Ramius had a billion-dollar Soviet submarine. The irony is that the man who made all those people flee Cuba also shared the desire to make it to America. The difference was in the means. Instead of floating to Florida on a tire, “America’s Pastime” was the chosen route to America for Fidel Castro.
The very same man known as the founder of communist Cuba was once a hard-baller who fancied a career as a professional pitcher in the United States. Obviously, history tells us there was a different outcome for Castro, but that doesn’t change the fact that Castro, communist Cuba, and baseball were oddly intertwined all through his rule.
When it comes to Castro the baseball player, he was involved in the sport in his college days and through graduate school, having toed the slab for the University of Havana law school. But that’s as far as Castro the pitcher goes; he didn’t make the University’s varsity team. A popular myth in America is that Castro drew interest from Major League teams, most notably the New York Yankees, Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins), and the Chicago White Sox. While no records exist to verify that, the myth likely stems from an article titled “The Day I Batted Against Castro” written by an ex-Major Leaguer named Don Hoak.
Instead, Castro graduated from law school and began his own legal practice in Havana. But becoming ever-dissatisfied with the government of corrupt-o-crat dictator Fulgencio Batista, Castro left the law in the mid-1950s to take up a guerrilla warfare campaign against the government. After overthrowing the Batista regime in 1959, Castro came to power in Cuba. Despite his love of baseball, Castro banned professional sports in 1960, ending baseball’s Cuban Winter League and forcing the relocation of the Havana Sugar Kings, the Triple-A International League minor league team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the forced exile of professional baseball, the game still thrived in Cuba. The Cuban Serie Nacional (Castro’s replacement for domestic “big-league” baseball) remains incredibly popular on the island while the Cuban national team has been a force in international competition for decades. Cuba finished second second in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, but as is the theme here, since then Cuban baseball has suffered from massive defections of its top players.
Like Captain Ramius and Fidel Castro, they just wanted to get to America.
The Moral of the Story:
Is there a better allegory for the short-comings of communism that with the expulsion of the Havana Sugar Kings, Fidel Castro literally kicked the Reds out of Cuba?
Oh, the irony.
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