The Bedford Incident (1965) 3.43/5 (1)
3.43/51

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.9
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 102 mins
Director: James B. Harris
Stars: Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam

Cold war drama starring Sidney Poitier as a journalist commissioned to do a story on the US Bedford, a destroyer which under the stern leadership of its task master captain has made a name for itself as a crack soviet sub-hunter. The film begins with Poitier being helicoptered on board in the middle of a dangerous pursuit along with the ship’s new doctor played by Martin Balsam. They soon learn that the only law on this ship is the captain’s and that his fanaticism has bred an elite but tightly wound crew. As Poitier gets to know his man and as Balsam attempts to fit in with the ship’s ultra-modern methods, the Bedford gets embroiled in a dangerous game with its latest quarry, a soviet sub which has illegally entered Greenland’s waters.

Poitier and Balsam are their usual tremendous selves but The Bedford Incident is all about Richard Widmark’s emphatic turn as the insatiable but paranoid Captain Finlander. Through James Poe’s taut screenplay and Widmark’s presence, his character sets the tone so completely that nearly every scene, even when he’s not present, is coloured by him. Echoes of Herman Melville’s Ahab ring louder and louder as Finlander provokes and threatens the soviet sub up and down the coast of Greenland to the increasing dismay and fear of the ship’s recent arrivals and eventually the crew itself.

The Bedford Incident is a cracking high tension representative of an always intriguing genre. The action is much more contained than the traditional WWII naval drama. This is partly due to the fact that the production had less help from the US military in terms of equipment and vehicle provision but mostly because the terseness of the story called for it. This is a film about obsession and the futile attempts of those observing to make sense of it or even stop it. It doesn’t crawl inside the head of the compelled captain but like Moby Dick, it examines it from the point of view of the incredulous onlookers. In this manner, The Bedford Incident becomes a streamlined reflection of the wider anxieties of the times as the governments of two superpowers went head to head in a dangerously deadlocked cold combat to the exasperation of the watching world.

The hermetic tension created to serve these ends works perfectly on a cinematic level too as it hones the already chilling subject matter to a fine point. It’s not the most technically accomplished war film as most of the action is shot in a studio but it makes clever use of what it does offer. However, even if it didn’t, the quality of the drama and the pay-off of its remarkable ending would easily negate such concerns.

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