The Bedford Incident (aka Aux Postes De Combat) is a 1965 British-American Cold War film starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier and co-produced by Widmark.
The cast also features Eric Portman, James MacArthur, Martin Balsam and Wally Cox, as well as early appearances by Donald Sutherland and Ed Bishop. The screenplay by James Poe is based on the 1963 novel by Mark Rascovich, which borrowed from the plot of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; at one point in the film, the captain is advised he is “not chasing whales now”.
The United States Navy destroyer USS Bedford (DLG-113) is underway in the Greenland, Iceland, and United Kingdom gap. The Bedford’s captain is Captain Eric Finlander. Also aboard are Ben Munceford, a civilian photojournalist; Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke, a NATO naval advisor; Ensign Ralston, an inexperienced young officer who is constantly criticised by Finlander for small errors; and Lieutenant Commander Chester Potter, the ship’s new doctor, who is a recently recalled reservist.
The Bedford suddenly detects a Soviet Navy submarine nearby, off the coast of Greenland. Although the United States and the Soviet Union are not at war, Finlander mercilessly harries his prey while Munceford and Schrepke look on with mounting alarm. Finlander exploits the fact that the diesel-powered Soviet sub has to surface periodically to replenish air and recharge batteries because it is not nuclear-powered, knowing full well it will make the Soviets more desperate.
Munceford is aboard to photograph life on a Navy destroyer but his real interest is Finlander who recently was passed over for promotion to rear admiral. Munceford is curious whether a comment made by Finlander regarding the American intervention in Cuba is the reason for his lack of promotion. This prompts Finlander to become openly hostile to Munceford, who he sees as a civilian who is interfering in military matters by questioning the risks involved in continually harrying the Soviet submarine.
The crew becomes increasingly fatigued by the unrelenting pursuit, as Finlander continually demands full attention to the instruments. At the same time, he becomes intolerant of anyone who questions his tactics, including Potter, who advises him that crew are feeling the pressure, but the captain will not relent.
When the submarine is found, it ignores Finlander’s order to surface and identify itself. Finlander, angered by this defiant act, orders the Bedford to run over its snorkel, ordering that it be logged as an “unidentified floating object”. He then orders the Bedford to arm weapons and withdraw to a distance to wait for the submerged sub to run out of air and be forced to surface. He confidently reassures Munceford and Schrepke that he is in command of the situation and that he will not fire first but “If he fires one, I’ll fire one!”
A fatigued Ralston mistakes Finlander’s remark as a command to “fire one”. He launches an anti-submarine rocket which destroys the submarine. Sonar then detects four nuclear torpedoes targeting the destroyer. Finlander gives basic orders to evade but then silently steps outside the bridge. Munceford follows, frantically pleading with him to do something, but the captain has realised his reckless actions have sealed the fate of everyone on board, as the ship cannot evade the nuclear torpedoes.
The film ends with still shots of various crewmen “melting” as if the celluloid film were burning as the Bedford and her crew are vaporised in an atomic blast, the final shot being a mushroom cloud.
- Richard Widmark as Captain Eric Finlander, USN.
- Sidney Poitier as Ben Munceford.
- James MacArthur as Ensign Ralston (credited as James Macarthur).
- Martin Balsam as Lt. Cmdr. Chester Potter, M.D., USN.
- Wally Cox as Seaman Merlin Queffle.
- Eric Portman as Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke, Bundesmarine.
- Michael Kane as Commander Allison Executive Officer – Bridge.
- Colin Maitland as Seaman Jones – Bridge.
- Paul Tamarin as Seaman 2nd Class – Bridge.
- Frank Lieberman as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge.
- James Caffrey as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge.
- Burnell Tucker as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge.
- Mike Lennox as Lieutenant Krindlemeyer, USN – Bridge (as Michael Graham).
- Bill Edwards as Lieutenant Hazelwood, USN – Bridge.
- Stephen Schreiber as Seaman 2nd Class – Bridge (as Stephen Van Schreiber).
- Ronald Rubin as Seaman 1st Class – Bridge.
- Eugene Leonard as Seaman 2nd Class – Bridge.
- Gary Cockrell as Lieutenant Bascombe, USN – C.I.C.
- Roy Stephens as Seaman 2nd Class – C.I.C.
- George Roubicek as Lieutenant Berger, USN – C.I.C.
- John McCarthy as Seaman 1st Class – C.I.C.
- Shane Rimmer as Seaman 1st Class – C.I.C.
- Glenn Beck as Seaman 2nd Class – C.I.C. (credited as Glen Beck).
- Brian Davies as Lieutenant Beckman USN – Communications.
- Ed Bishop as Lieutenant Hacker USN – Communications (as Edward Bishop).
- Paul Carson as Seaman 1st Class – Communications.
- Laurence Herder as Petty Officer – Communications.
- Phil Brown as Chief Hospitalman McKinley – Sick Bay.
- Donald Sutherland as Hospitalman Nerney – Sick Bay.
- Warren Stanhope as Hospitalman Strauss – Sick Bay.
The screenplay by James Poe follows the novel fairly closely but Poe wrote a different ending. In the novel, the Soviet submarine does not fire back at Bedford before being destroyed. The shocked Finlander then receives word of his promotion to admiral. Commodore Schrepke, realising that World War III will begin once the events are known, sabotages one of the remaining ASROCs and destroys the ship. Munceford, the sole survivor, is found by Novosibirsk, the submarine’s mothership. Unlike the book, the film version ends with the vessels being destroyed by one another. The plot reflects several Cold War incidents between the NATO and Soviet navies, including one in 1957 when USS Gudgeon, a submarine, was caught in Soviet waters and chased out to sea by Soviet warships. Although none ended as catastrophically as the Bedford incident, the story illustrated many of the fears of the time.
The Bedford Incident was mostly filmed at Shepperton Studios in the UK, although some shots at sea were used. “USS Bedford” was a fictitious guided missile destroyer and the role of Bedford was mostly played by a large model of a Farragut-class destroyer. Interior scenes were filmed in the British Type 15 frigate HMS Troubridge; British military equipment can be seen in several shots, including a rack of Lee-Enfield rifles and Troubridge’s novel, forward-sloping bridge windows. Sidney Poitier’s initial flypast and landing from a Whirlwind helicopter were filmed aboard another Type 15 frigate, HMS Wakeful, whose F159 pennant number is clearly visible. The vessel portraying a Soviet intelligence ship has the name “Novo Sibursk”, written on the hull at the bow in the Latin alphabet, not the Russian language’s Cyrillic alphabet; “Novosibirsk” is a more accurate English rendering.
Actual Cold War Incident
In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet submarine B-59 was pursued in the Atlantic Ocean by the US Navy. When the Soviet vessel failed to surface, the destroyers began dropping training depth charges. Unlike in The Bedford Incident, the Americans were not aware that the B-59 was armed with a T-5 nuclear torpedo. The Soviet captain, believing that World War III might have started, wanted to launch the weapon but was over-ruled by his flotilla commander, Vasili Arkhipov, who, by coincidence, was using the boat as his command vessel. After an argument, it was agreed that the submarine would surface and await orders from Moscow. It was not until after the fall of the Soviet Union that the existence of the T-5 torpedo and how close the world came to nuclear conflict was made known.
- On the Beach, a 1959 film and 2000 film about the last American submarine following global nuclear war.
- Fail Safe, a 1964 drama and 2000 drama concerning the accidental launch of a nuclear first strike by the USAF.
- The film was directed by James B. Harris, who, until then, had been best known as Stanley Kubrick’s producer.
- The two parted ways over a disagreement about the film that became Kubrick’s noted Cold War nuclear-confrontation film Dr. Strangelove; Harris had wanted it to be told as a serious thriller, but Kubrick wanted it to be a comic farce (which it became).
- Harris remained focused on developing a serious nuclear-confrontation film, resulting in The Bedford Incident.
- Although by this point Sidney Poitier had been making films for 15 years, this was the first film he made in which his race was neither mentioned nor relevant.
- “Novosibirsk”, the Russian submarine’s escort ship (misspelled on its hull), is the name of an actual city in Russia.
- In English, the name translates to “New Siberia”.
- This large city is located east of the Ural Mountains, in southern Siberia.
Production & Filming Details
- James B. Harris.
- James B. Harris … producer.
- Denis O’Dell … associate producer.
- Richard Widmark … producer.
- Mark Rascovich … novel.
- James Poe … screenplay.
- Gerard Schurmann.
- Gilbert Taylor … director of photography.
- John Jympson.
- Columbia Pictures (presents).
- Bedford Productions Ltd. (uncredited).
- Columbia Pictures Corporation (1965) (UK) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures (1965) (USA) (theatrical).
- Columbia Film (1966) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Kamera (1966) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Columbia Films (1966) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Columbia-Bavaria Filmgesellschaft m.b.H. (1966) (West Germany) (theatrical).
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1967) (USA) (TV).
- Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment (1980) (USA) (VHS) (pan and scan).
- RCA / Columbia Pictures Video (1987) (UK) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (2004) (USA) (VHS).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2011) (USA) (DVD).
- Encore Video (Germany) 2002 (Germany) (DVD).
- RCA/Columbia-Hoyts Home Video (1988) (Australia) (video).
- Videolog (UK) (DVD).
- Release Date: 11 October 1965 (Connecticut, US) and 14 October 1965 (London, UK).
- Running time: 102 minutes.
- Rating: A.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.