Mission of the Shark

An awkward mixture of shipwreck adventure, courtroom drama, and Jaws rip-off, Mission of the Shark is a damp, muddy, fact-based TV movie. Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) stars as Charles McVay, a Navy captain in command of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The ship is sailing the Pacific, having delivered components for the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima, when it is hit by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine.

The Indianapolis sinks, and only a little more than 300 of the ship’s 1,196 men survive. Most of the first half of Mission contains seemingly endless scenes of brave men clinging to life rafts while sharks snap at their legs and sniff their blood. Back home, McVay’s superiors decide that the captain didn’t make all the proper efforts to avoid the torpedo, and McVay is court- martialed — the first American captain, it is said, to be prosecuted for losing a ship in battle.

As his lifeboat-clutching scenes prove, Keach is in great shape, and he does his best to make his McVay transcend the cold, stuffy characterization in Alan Sharp’s screenplay. But this is one of those TV movies in which everything important is telegraphed to the viewer way ahead of time. Thus, even without any knowledge of this real-life incident, I knew McVay wasn’t going to come out of the stultifying courtroom scenes a happy sailor. Everyone had been acting so grim and portentous bad news was inevitable. C-

Mission of the Shark
  • TV Show