Friday, March 05, 2021

The Real Hunt for Red October, on Reelz

Tom Clancy wasn't just a #1 bestseller. He changed publishing, making the “technothriller” a legitimate thing and encouraging scores of military veterans to try their hand at fiction. Some of them were pretty good at it too. Maybe he also helped win the Cold War as well. Some commentators suggest as much in The Real Hunt for Red October, which premieres tomorrow night on Reelz.

Everyone thinks they are a writer, yet a lot of the talking heads in Reelz’s “true story” special think it was odd that an insurance salesman from Maryland could sit down a write a publishable first novel. Yet, Anthony Trollope and Wallace Stevens had written extensive bodies of literature, while also maintaining full-time office jobs. Seriously, it was not so outlandish. The question is whether Clancy was fed classified information by intelligence agencies for the sake of scoring a soft power victory. (Clancy himself always claimed he got his information from specialized media, like
Jane’s Defense, but why settle for a conventional explanation, when you opt for something more dramatic.)

Much of the
Real Hunt focuses on the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Soviet submarine K-129 and the clandestine CIA campaign to salvage it, echoes of which can be found in Red October. This is also the best stuff in the nonfiction program. It was a huge undertaking, masked by a fictional seafloor mining enterprise headed by Howard Hughes, whose legendary eccentricity was an asset to the operation. We even see a promotional video for the enterprise hosted by TV character actor Richard Anderson (from The Six Million Dollar Man and appropriately, Cover-Up). For years, the salvage operation was considered mostly a failure, but several interview subjects suggest it was more successful than the CIA let on.

Most of the interview subjects are outside observers, who offer speculation viewers can judge for themselves. However, there are notable on-camera sessions with Clancy’s son Tom Clancy III and former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, who put a copy of
Hunt for Red October in Pres. Reagan’s hands—and the rest was history. It is good to hear from him again. Honestly, we need more public servants like Lehman.

Written by Cameron Rothery (who is also credited with “additional directing”),
Real Hunt is longer than typical for this kind of “story-behind” programs. It is also more interesting. Rothery’s experts make a convincing case K-129 at least partly inspired Red October, but they entirely overlook the mutiny on the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy, which is also considered real-life source material for Clancy’s novel. Recommended for students of the Cold War and fans of the book, film, and author, The Real Hunt for Red October airs tomorrow (3/6) on Reelz.