Foul mouthed, drunken, bare knuckle fighting, girl-in-every-port keeping, societal retards. Hollywood loves sailors, and John and Jane Q Landlubber love movies about sailors.
Maybe it’s the romantic, adventure-filled lives they lead, the brutish charm of the refreshingly uncivilized, or maybe it’s just because they refuse to conform. Love ’em or hate ’em, sailors are a breed apart and make for reliably great subject matter, be it in a comedy or drama.
Wanda Hendrix plays a WAVE officer who is endlessly pursued (nowadays, they call it stalking) by Edmond O’Brien, Johnny Sands, and Steve Brodie; four fun-loving, work-hating men, all of whom want to marry her. Hendrix only has eyes for her boyfriend Dick Erdman, who is on the lam from vengeful millionaire . +
A middle-aged Clark Gable returned from active duty in World War II to star in this MGM release that was heavily advertised as his big comeback. Gable is Harry Patterson, the bosun mate on a merchant marine vessel. While in a San Francisco library, Harry meets librarian Emily Sears (Greer Garson), whom he woos, marries, and leaves to sail off on another freighter.
When he returns, Emily has retreated to an old farm to await the birth of their child. Harry continues to resent staying in one place, but ultimately changes his tune when their baby’s life hangs in the balance. +
The Adventures of Martin Eden (Columbia, 1942)
Re-released in 1948 as High Seas
Glenn Ford plays Martin Eden, an aspiring writer who signs on a merchant ship as a sailor. Tormented by the ship’s sadistic captain, Eden survives the voyage, determined to write an expose of his horrible experiences. Despite opposition from the maritime authorities, Martin’s book becomes a best-seller. Its publication results in punishment for the wicked captain and the exoneration of a sailor accused of murder. +
The aristocratic British Robinson Crusoe’s ship sinks and he miraculously survives on a deserted island somewhere in South America. He retrieves a dog, Rex, and cat, Sam, from the shipwreck together with some supplies, weapons, clothes and tools and builds a shelter. He soon learns how to survive by cooking, farming, harvesting the crops. Then the loneliness begins to haunt him. When he sees a group of cannibals in the island, tension and fear become part of his life. Later, he saves the life of a savage that was invited for dinner, names him “Friday” and the two become friends. +
This is a reasonably reliable version of the Daniel Defoe’s novel about the 17th century shipwreck victim (Dan O’Herlihy) and his “Man Friday” (James Fernandez). Magnificently photographed in Pathecolor, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was released in Mexico two years before its American distribution. +
Mickey Rooney, Dick Haymes and Ray McDonald play a trio of eternally broke sailors on leave ashore at Catalina Island. All three gobs set their sights on a millionaire’s lovely daughter played by Barbara Bates. +
MGM’s highly popular comedy team of Karl Dane and George K. Arthur starred in this silly but enjoyable silent comedy in which Dane’s goofy gob (named “Stupid McDuff,” no less) is hypnotized by Arthur’s vaudeville magician Rollo the Great. The rangy Danish Dane and the diminutive British Arthur made a fine team, especially in service comedies. +
In this slapstick British comedy, a proud man from a family of seamen is so prone to seasickness that even the slightest aqueous movement makes him unbearably ill. His illustrious family history is depicted from the Stone Age to the present via flashback. To preserve his family’s name and his own dignity, he establishes a hotel for sailors complete with an amusement pier. It is a great success, which fires the jealousy of local residents who try to destroy his new empire. Fortunately, his sailor pals intervene and save the day. +
A somewhat serviceable, light comedy by prolific director Norman Taurog (favored helmer of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis films). Squeaky-clean Pat Boone plays a singing lieutenant who has to briefly ship out to the Aleutians and regrettably leave Sally (Barbara Eden), his new love behind. Taking off with the ship is a stowaway turkey, nurtured by Garfield (Buddy Hackett), a zany sailor with a soft heart.
The turkey and an amorous pelican have produced a strange-looking egg, and Sally smuggles herself aboard just prior to inspection at Long Beach. +
Anchors Aweigh was a huge hit in 1945. This mammoth musical is at base the story of two sailors on leave in Hollywood. Brash Joseph Brady (Gene Kelly) has promised his shy pal Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) that he will introduce Clarence to all the glamorous movie starlets whom he allegedly knows so well. Clarence only has eyes for a fellow Brooklynite (Pamela Britton). +
The movie is famous for a musical number where Gene Kelly dances seamlessly with the animated Jerry Mouse. Tom Cat appears briefly as a butler in the sequence supervised by acclaimed animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
It won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gene Kelly), Best Song, Best Cinematography, and Best Picture. +
In this melodrama, Mexican super star Dolores Del Rio plays a dancer working in a sleazy Marseilles portside dive that is a front for a bordello. One night she meets a sailor and agrees to be his bride. Unfortunately, one of her former suitors suddenly shows up and a terrible fight ensues.
The sailor kills his rival and ends up sentenced to Devil’s Island. Not wanting to be separated from her beloved, the dancer marries the meanest guard in the prison. During a riot, the sailor proves his mettle and gets pardoned. The couple happily decide to return to the hoofer’s native Britain. +
The saga of the Amethyst, a British vessel left stranded in China during the Communist takeover. The British government tries to reclaim the Amethyst, only to run up against a Great Wall of Red bureaucracy and propaganda. It is up to Lieutenant Commander Kearns (Richard Todd) and his valiant crew to pilot the Amethyst down the Yangtse, under cover of night, without arousing suspicions amongst the locals. +
On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst (right) was on her way from Shanghai to Nanking (now Nanjing) when she was fired upon by the People’s Liberation Army, thus triggering the Amethyst Incident. The Amethyst was trapped in China until 30 July 1949.
For the 1957 film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst, Amethyst was brought out of storage to play herself. Her engines no longer operational, her sister ship, the Magpie, was used for shots of the ship moving. Amethyst was scrapped shortly after the filming was finished. (more)
Toothy, ukelele-plucking British music hall favorite George Formby is at it again in 1943’s Bell-Bottom George. From the title, you’d think that Formby has joined the Royal Navy. Well, sort of: when he’s declared unfit for service, Formby poses as a Jack Tar to impress his girl friend Ann Firth. After a series of fitfully funny complications, Formby captures a nest of Nazi spies. Bell-Bottom George was a hit with both British military and civilian audiences. + (image source)
In a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum, John Wayne teaches those dirty Commies yet another lesson in Blood Alley. Wayne plays a veteran seaman who comes to the aid of Lauren Bacall, daughter of a missionary doctor killed by the Red Chinese. Bacall convinces Wayne to smuggle a group of villagers past the Communist forces and into the safe harbor of Hong Kong. Though there are many close calls, Wayne proves to be a shade smarter and more resourceful than the minions of Mao. +
Location filming took place in and near China Camp, a shrimp fishing village on the San Francisco Bay.
Set in the scenic South Seas, this adventure centers on a sailor who gets in all kinds of trouble when he tells a whopper about having found a great Spanish treasure. Soon, he and his girlfriend are being pursued by a colorful assortment of treasure-seeking thieves and pirates. +
A boy learns life-changing lessons about the importance of friendship and the dignity of labor in this adventure saga based on a novel by Rudyard Kipling – Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a Portuguese old salt named Manuel, who drags young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) on board a Gloucester fishing boat after he fall off an ocean liner somewhere in the Grand banks, off Nova Scotia.
Harvey shows no gratitude to Manuel for saving his life and demands to be taken home immediately. Manuel and the crew, not the least bit sympathetic, inform him that once they’ve filled the ship’s hold with fresh catch, they’ll return to shore, and not a moment sooner. Over the next few weeks, Harvey grows from a self-centered pantywaist into a young man who appreciates the value of a hard day’s work. In Manuel he finds the strength, guidance, and good sense that he never got from his own father, a wealthy businessman. +
Spoiler alert: grab your hanky.
In 1807, Captain Horatio Hornblower leads his ship the HMS Lydia on a perilous voyage around Cape Horn and into the Pacific. Not even his officers know exactly where he is taking them. England is at war with Napoleon and everyone wonders why they have been sent so far from the action… keep reading
Hornblower was originally scheduled to star Errol Flynn, but the role was recast when it was decided he’d grown too old to play the role convincingly. +
One of Shirley Temple’s best films, Captain January is mostly memorable for her singing and dancing duet with Buddy Ebsen, “At the Codfish Ball.”
Temple plays Star, a child of divorce who is looked after by crusty-but-lovable lighthouse keeper Captain January (Guy Kibbee). keep reading
This touching romance is based on a play by Rachel Crothers. An aging sea captain squanders his fortune on a bad business deal. Faced with having to move his wife into the poor house, he sells interest in a ship he has nothing to do with, and manages to secure her a spot in a decent home for old ladies. He then dresses as an old woman and moves in with her. Their fortune soon changes after the brave old salt saves a shipwrecked schooner. +
Navy jargon for a pass that runs out at midnight; sailor John Baggs, Jr. (James Caan) intends to make the most of it while his ship is docked in Seattle. He wins prostitute Maggie (Marsha Mason) in a pool game, but backs off when he finds out that Maggie has an 11-year-old son and another baby on the way. +
Happy Labor Day to everyone
that works on the water
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