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Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis.

Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. Directed by Robert Iscove, written by Alan Sharp, starring Stacy Reach, Richard Thomas, Don Harvey, and David Caruso, 1991, 100 minutes, color, not rated.

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IN THE 1975 BLOCKBUSTER Jaws, Quint (Robert Shaw) explains how he developed a loathing for sharks after serving on the cruiser USS Indianapolis in World War II. "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side," he says. "So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest." That famous scene explains the title of this 1991 account of the Indianapolis disaster. But this above-average made-for-TV movie demonstrates that there's more to the story.

The Indianapolis, commanded by Captain Charles McVay (Stacy Keach), delivers crucial parts for the Hiroshima atomic bomb to the island of Tinian and is heading for the Philippines when a Japanese submarine commanded by Captain Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) sinks her. Among the hundreds of men going into the drink are the ship's doctor (Richard Thomas), marine Captain Wilkes (David Caruso), and surly seaman Kinderman (Don Harvey). Seaman Dobson (Tim Guinee), floating all by himself, keeps his mind occupied by mentally composing a letter to a crewmate's sister. McVay, blown overboard by an explosion, ends up drifting with a few other castaways he finds.

Sharks arrive and commit a number of somewhat grisly attacks on the helpless sailors. But aerial shots showing the men adrift on a huge, featureless ocean drive home that the real enemy is the sea itself. Making things worse, the navy does not realize the ship is missing. The drifting men grow weaker and more desperate. Kinderman becomes determined to survive at all costs, without regard for others. He drowns Wilkes when the conscientious marine orders him out of a raft to make room for wounded. Sailors driven mad by drinking saltwater unknowingly avenge Wilkes by stabbing Kinderman to death, believing in their delirium that he is Japanese. Unlike the rest of the film, this scene seems contrived.

Finally a search plane flown by playboy pilot Tasker (Jeffrey Nordling) spots the men by accident. Although Tasker knows he is too low on fuel to take off again if he lands, he brings the seaplane down and gives men shelter as they await rescue. McVay and his band are rescued, too, but not before he nears his breaking point when a shark kills his ship's chaplain (Bob Gunton) right in front of him.

Back on land, McVay faces court-martial on two counts: not ordering abandon ship soon enough, and putting his vessel at risk by not taking a zigzag course. He is found not guilty on the first, but guilty on the second. McVay is the son and grandson of admirals, and this humiliation proves almost too much for him. Adding salt to his wounds is the fact that Hashimoto, the enemy who sank his ship, serves as a witness for the prosecution. "It is not easy being a survivor" the Japanese submariner tells McVay in a meeting after the trial. McVay receives some consolation at a reunion of the ship's survivors in 1960. But, as a postscript explains, the real McVay took his own life eight years later.

Mission of the Shark may be a made-for-TV movie, but it acquits itself honorably. Keach plays McVay as a man who can't let his emotions show, although his eyes reveal pain and torment. The Waltons' Richard Thomas is fine in the somewhat underwritten role of the doctor, while David Caruso, still a few years away from his breakthrough role in television's NYPD Blue, is suitably tough as the doomed marine.

--Tom Huntington

Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
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Author:Huntington, Tom
Publication:America in WWII
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:613
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