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Sean Connery pilots the Red October to success


Directed by John McTiernan.

Starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin,

Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones and

Sam Neill.

Opens today at the Loews Cheri.


SUBMARINE CAPTAIN MARKO RAMIUS takes advantage of the latest advances in Soviet technology to silently slip away from his country for the freedom of the United States. His escape takes him through narrow canyons, racing ahead of the Soviet fleet into the menacing presence of the American navy. The Hunt for Red October, directed by John McTiernan, traces the journey of Ramius, slowly yet methodically building suspense and action to finish with a high-stakes game of "chicken" involving submarines and torpedoes.

Readers of the novel by Tom Clancy, on which the film is based, will find that the film lacks much of the depth of the book. The death of Ramius's wife receives bare mention and little importance. The British are nearly nonexistent. No credit is given to CARDINAL, a Central Intelligence Agency agent deep within the Kremlin, who relayed the initial information on Ramius. Clancy extensively develops the credentials and abilities of CIA analyst Jack Ryan (played by Alec Baldwin). In the film, Ryan's conclusions seem to appear more from thin air than from a deep understanding of Ramius and the Russians.

Despite the omissions from the book, The Hunt for Red October stands by itself as a thoroughly enjoyable movie, set in a time before the rise of glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev. Much of the credit for this must go to Sean Connery, who stars as Captain Ramius, a respected Communist Party member and trusted submarine commander.

To defect, he must calm the fears of his officers -- all hand-selected from his students and with no family in Russia -- and hide the defection from the young crew. At the same time, he must avoid the entire Russian fleet -- sent to destroy him -- and the Americans who have been led to believe that he is a madman bent on starting World War III.

Connery succeeds as a forceful and wily commander willing to push his crew and his vessel beyond the limits of their endurance. Calm self-assurance during the head-on approach of a torpedo and in dealing with the enemy submarines emphasizes his lengthy experience as a seaman. But his discussions with executive officer Borodin on their hopes and dreams of life in America indicate that he is more than just a simple man of the military. He is a tragic hero who must leave his homeland to secure peace.

Until Ramius and his submarine appeared, Jack Ryan sedately compiled histories and profiles of Russian officials for the CIA. The disappearance of the Red October, and the subsequent massive mobilization of the Russian fleet, thrust him into the maelstrom of CIA and Navy operations. Abstract theories give way to conflicts between his professional opinions and the prejudices and misinformation of members of the military, conflicts which more often that not are supported by pistols rather than informed discussion.

Ryan's film transition from researcher to gun-toting intelligence agent extraordinaire lacks the smoothness and development of the process in the book. His preparation for a meeting with the secretary of defense is limited to a few scant moments in the film, while Clancy allows several hours of preparation for a meeting with the president.

Baldwin as Ryan tries to make the best of the situation. He boldly supports his often unpopular opinions against the judgments of generals and submarine commanders. Indeed, it is primarily the strength of his reasoning that ties much of the movie together and helps to save Ramius from the US Navy.

Clancy wrote The Hunt for Red October just before the end of the Cold War when the Russians were still the "bad guys" and displays of military force against them was still in vogue. The anti-Soviet tensions have not entirely been eliminated from the film, however. Ramius is half Lithuanian, and this is a prime source of discontent among the higher echelons of Soviet bureaucracy. The plot has been modified to account for the recent calming of some international difficulties; nonetheless it maintains much of Clancy's suspenseful drama with remarkable action and superb directing.

At the beginning of the movie, there is a disclaimer that despite frequent queries, the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union have both denied that such a defection took place. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Soviets have admitted that an anti-submarine ship, the Storozhevoy, almost defected in 1975 under the control of the deputy commanding officer. The Soviets intercepted the vessel 21 miles outside of Swedish territorial waters, and the officer was sentenced to death by firing squad.