In the dark, low-tech days before videotapes, we had movies at sea. These were 16-millimeter prints of standard Hollywood releases, and a feature film usually took up three reels. Some films took as many as five reels. The boxes were perhaps eighteen inches square and five inches thick for the average film.
Since there were no legal copies of feature films in the hands of the general public in those days, the agreement with the studios required extraordinary security precautions. We joked that the paperwork involved in losing a movie was worse than the paperwork involved in losing a sailor. I never knew anyone who lost a movie, but I knew of several sailors who were lost.
When surface ships ("skimmers" to us submariners, because they just skimmed around on the surface) went to sea, they usually went in the company of other ships. There was a formula to figure out how many movies each ship got, since they were supposed to share. When a submarine went out, always alone, we got a movie for each day of our planned outing.
Not all the movies were good. Italian westerns were popular.
The most intense negotiations that I ever saw the skipper enter into involved swapping movies with another ship. It made poker look like child's play.
One day we were crossing the Atlantic, somewhere between Bermuda and the Azores, when we unexpectedly encountered an old destroyer escort that had been converted to a radar picket ship. Their function in the days before sophisticated satellites was to give advance warning of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Without using the radio, or communicating in any other way, we pulled alongside of each other and hove to. The destroyer launched a motor whaleboat. A sailor came aboard with the brochures of each of the movies they carried. We sent him back with the brochures of our movies. The negotiation was carried out in mysterious ways, and we had fresh entertainment for the next month or so. We had no other reason for stopping to talk to the destroyer crew.
I have always thought of this incident a nice, humanizing touch in the grand experience of the military, a modest, worthwhile frivolity with the taxpayers' money.
(And yes, the title refers to the need to stow 54 movies, which at one movie per night, meant that it would be 54 days and nights before we would be able to swap movies. Or take showers. Or eat fresh produce. Or ...)