Your summer nautical movie guide!
A few titles with which you may, (and many you may not) be familiar…
Suspenseful and provocative high-seas drama directed by Richard Sale – The captain of the luxury liner SS Crescent Star is suddenly faced with life or death decisions when his ship sinks, leaving himself and over twenty survivors floating at sea in an overcrowded lifeboat that does not contain enough food, water and medical supplies to support them all.
Included in the group are an old opera singer, a nuclear physicist, his wife and child, a general, a playwright and his dog, a college professor, a gambler and his mistress, the ship’s nurse, and several members of the crew.
It soon becomes clear to one of the ship’s men, Frank Kelly (Lloyd Nolan) that saving everyone is impossible. After the captain dies from his injuries, the executive officer, (Tyrone Power) must take charge. As a hurricane approaches, decisions must me made about who will be jettisoned to save the rest. When a rescue ship finally turns up, the support of those remaining suddenly turns to contempt and hostility. +
Original British title: “Seven Waves Away” +
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd
(Warner Brothers, 1953)
Starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Charles Laughton
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are cast as Rocky and Puddn’head, waiters at a pirate hangout on the island of Tortuga. Captain Kidd is played by no less than Charles Laughton, who reportedly agreed to sign up for this film because he wanted to learn how to perform a comedy double-take.
Rocky and Pudd’nhead are shanghaied by Kidd, setting the stage for a climactic treasure hunt and chase on a faraway Skull Island. Laughton takes to broad slapstick comedy like a fish to water, and is at times a lot funnier than Bud and Lou. In color. +
After a narrow escape, the courage of Massey and his first mate Humphrey Bogart inspire the survival of their crew.
After returning to America, they are given a command of a new ship and a dangerous new mission which returns them to the North Atlantic.
Action in the North Atlantic is solid wartime propaganda with a rather endearing inner lining of left-wing politics, courtesy (no doubt) of scenarist John Howard Lawson, who based his screenplay on a novel by maritime specialist Guy Gilpatric. +
Alaskan salmon fisherman Matt Kelly (Robert Ryan) doesn’t care who he runs over in race to get ahead in life. He even manages to exploit his friendship with Jim Kimmerly (Brian Keith) so he can make time with Kimmerly’s fiancÃ©e Nicky (played by Jan Sterling).
After Kelly’s recklessness results in the loss of Jim’s fishing boat during a glacial avalanche, he tries to make up for his past misdeeds with an all-out act of self-sacrifice.
Keep an eye out for Ross Bagdasarian, (“David Seville,” mentor of Alvin and the Chipmunks) who makes a surprise appearance. +
Tom Brown plays Click Haley, a wise-guy naval cadet who learns the hard way to tow the line and honor the traditions of the academy. Click and his more serious roommate Boyce Avery, (Richard Cromwell) have a falling out over the affections of heroine Madeline Deming (Rosalind Keith).
The film’s most compelling character is Manila Bay veteran Commander Fitzhugh (Guy Standing), who spends much of his time basking in past glories. In a climactic scene that will either move the viewer to uncontrolled laughter or copious tears, Commander Fitzhugh, distressed that his former ship will be used for target practice, stoically dons his old uniform and gallantly goes down with the doomed vessel! +
In July 1914, a luxury cruise ship leaves Italy with the ashes of a famous opera singer named Tetua. The boat is filled with her friends, opera singers, actors and all kinds of exotic people. Life is sweet the first few days, but by day three, the captain has to rescue a a large number of Serbian refugees from the sea, refugees who have escaped the first tremors of WWI… more
Made only 17 years after the real disaster and originally titled “Titanic”.
White Star lawsuits forced producers to rename it.
Nearly 70 years before James Cameron made the Titanic tragedy his own personal property, E. A. DuPont offered his own spin on the same story in this landmark early talkie.
It’s a British maritime story & British production directed by a German Expressionists director who himself was getting acquainted with sound at the time. Based on a stage play by Ernest Raymond, Atlantic was simultaneously filmed in English, French and German-language versions. +
Stalwart courage and craven cowardice come head to head in the climactic scenes, but in the final summation it is the special effects, rather than the behavior of the characters, that linger longest in the memory.
Director Dupont set a standard with this film that all later Titanic films imitated in one way or another. This film shows the goings-on on the bridge, scenes of the engine room (pretty good by the way), the effects on important first class passengers, the steerage passengers in the lower holds and even the sinking, (while very stagey) is handled poignantly with the cast singing Nearer My God To Thee. +
Based on the novel by Kenneth M. Dodson. Starring Jeff Chandler as a tough Navy captain who takes charge of a group of raw, undisciplined sailors during World War II.
full synopsis and more
The story of USS Belinda, Attack Transport PA22, launched late 1943 with a regular-navy captain and ex-merchant captain as boat commander. Despite personal friction, the two have plenty to deal with as the only experienced officers on board during the shakedown. Laughable incompetence gradually improves, but the crew remains far from perfect when the ship sees action. None anticipate the challenges in store at Okinawa… +
In the early 1940s, a number of civilian passenger ships and some freighters were acquired and outfitted with heavy boat davits and other arrangements to enable them to handle landing craft for amphibious assault operations. more
USS Sanborn (APA-193) stars as the fictional Belinda.
Starring Robert Ryan, Peter Ustinov, Melvyn Douglas, and Terence Stamp.
Directed by Peter Ustinov.
When the ship’s sadistic master-at-arms is killed, Billy is accused and tried. Adapted from the stage play version of Herman Melville‘s short novel Billy Budd; Stamp, (as the title character) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and received a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer.
The Bedford Incident
Starring Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam,
Wally Cox and Donald Sutherland
The Bedford Incident was an attempt by Columbia Pictures — which had previously made the classics Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe — to tap the well of public anxiety surrounding nuclear weapons and the Cold War yet again. +
Reporter Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier) is allowed aboard a navy ship on patrol near the Arctic Circle. His job is to observe the ship in action and do an article on Captain Finlander, (Richard Widmark) a hard-as-nails sailor and a dedicated anti-Communist (with a patriotic zeal that’s extraordinary even in a man of his rank and position) who is is tracking and hunting a Soviet sub that he knows is patrolling the same waters.
He drives his men mercilessly, up to and past the breaking point, trying to hunt down the submarine and force it to surface. Yet nothing, neither the questions of the reporter, nor the angry protests of the newly-arrived medical officer (Martin Balsam), can get him to relent.
A mistake by an over-tired young officer (James MacArthur) suddenly unleashes all of the destructive power with which Finlander has been flirting. +
read The Bedford incident by Mark Rascovich, with drawings by the author
Seeking revenge, an athletic nobleman joins the same pirate band
responsible for his father’s death. +
Framed for robbery, 18th century medical student Alan Ladd is sentenced to a New South Wales penal colony. En route to the prison, Ladd is tormented by sadistic ship’s captain James Mason, while Mason’s beloved Patricia Medina takes a fancy to the new prisoner.
Once at the colony, Ladd is befriended by governor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, since the populace is in desperate need of a qualified physician. Mason’s efforts to continue persecuting Ladd are foiled when Mason is killed by a group of disgruntled aborigines.
Based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. +
Semi-fictional account of pirate Jean Lafitte’s involvement in the War of 1812 +
Operating out of a “buccaneer’s haven” of the coast of New Orleans, Lafitte plunders all passing ships for their wealth, but refuses to attack any vessel flying the American flag. During one seafaring skirmish, he rescues Dutch maiden Gretchen (Franziska Gaal) from a sinking ship. Gretchen falls madly in love with the dashing Lafitte, but he has eyes only for aristocratic Louisana belle Annette (Margot Grahame). — full synopsis and more
Humphrey Bogart portrays U.S. Naval commander Captain Queeg, heading an all star cast that includes JosÃ© Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Lee Marvin.
If you haven’t already seen this, it might be time to consider a career change.
Go to clown school or something.
Errol Flynn’s breakthrough role as the privateer Dr. Peter Blood would redefine the swashbuckling genre. And under the skillful direction of Michael Curtiz, his suave personality would take America by storm. +
Based on the 1922 novel Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, the film is about an enslaved doctor and his fellow prisoners who escape and become pirates on the open seas. Some of the impressive sea-battle footage was taken from The Sea Hawk (1924).
The final battle sequence between Blood’s pirate crew and the French ships used one of the largest technical crews assembled for a film, requiring 2500 extras.
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Sound Editing, received positive reviews and was a success at the box office. +
The son of a notorious pirate is placed on the path of righteousness by his love for a beautiful young woman. + Starring Sean Flynn; son of the swashbuckling actor who played Captain Blood in the original. +
Starring Alec Guinness, Yvonne de Carlo, Celia Johnson, Charles Goldner.
Directed by Anthony Kimmins.
In this bright British comedy, we meet Capt. Henry St. James (Alec Guinness) as he stands before a firing squad. Henry is a ship’s captain ferrying a steamer between Gibraltar and North Africa on a regular basis, and he’s taken the notion of “a girl in every port” to a whole new level…
Years have passed since Captain Blood was pardoned by the Crown for his daring deeds against the Spanish Main… He is now living quietly on a plantation in the West Indies, practicing medicine and planning his marriage to Isabella.
His peaceful existence is shattered when a man from the past arrives and arrests him on a piracy charge. Someone has been raiding the islands impersonating Captain Blood. In order to prove his innocence, he must sail again under the Jolly Roger. +
Crawford plays Johnny Phelan, first mate on a rundown oil tanker captained by his pal Steve Conway (John Ireland). Johnny is willing to look the other way whenever Steve’s larcenous nature comes to surface, but when Steve starts moving in on Johnny’s girl Kitty, (Ellen Drew) it’s more than he can stand. It all comes to a head during a climactic shipboard fire. +
China Seas proved that the recently imposed Hollywood production code had little if any effect on the popularity of MGM sex symbols Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Gable plays the captain of a tramp steamer chugging between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Harlow is Gable’s ex-main squeeze, a “woman of the world” who books passage on the steamer at the same time that another of Gable’s former loves, the aristocratic Rosalind Russell, shows up.
Wallace Beery plays Gable’s supposedly lovable first mate, who is actually in league with a gang of pirates who plan to steal the gold shipment being carried in the hold of the steamer. +
Jose Ferrer both starred in, (as Major Stringer, the officer in charge of a delicate naval operation) and directed this British WW2 drama.
Stringer and seven volunteers are expected to paddle four canoes into Nazi-held waters, plant limpet mines on enemy boats, and return safely to their own lines. Of the eight courageous saboteurs, only two survive. The story is abundant with suspense, humor and irony, buoyed by a top-rank supporting cast, including +, and shows up briefly as a German sub commander.
Starring Burt Lancaster & Nick Cravat. Directed by Robert Siodmak.
Half affectionate parody and half enthusiastic tribute to the swashbuckling pirate epics of the 1930’s and 40’s, The Crimson Pirate stars Burt Lancaster as Captain Vallo, the smiling leader of a pack of unscrupulous pirates.
Whilst frolicking on the high seas, Vallo and his men spy a well-stocked merchant ship and waste no time in relieving it of its contents, hoping to make a profit selling the arms they’ve just stolen to rebel leader Sebastian (Frederick Leister) who is leading a political revolt shaking a nearby island nation in the Caribbean to its foundations.
Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat had been partners in their early days as circus acrobats, and got to put their skills to good use in this picture. Keep an eye peeled for an early performance by future horror movie great Christopher Lee.
Lt. Comdr. Ericson (Jack Hawkins) is made captain of a British corvette, a small escort vessel used to guide and protect convoys traveling through the Atlantic.
During his last command, in which he lost his ship and most of its men following an attack by a German U-boat, his confidence was severely shaken. As he leads a new and largely inexperienced crew aboard the H.M.S. Compass Rose, Ericson is once again thrown into a life-and-death dilemma that forces him to choose between destroying an enemy ship or sparing the lives of his crew. +
(Miss Monkey Fist LOVED this movie)
A ship’s captain must deal with a mutiny amongst the crew, racketeer stowaways, and at home; his wife who is having an affair with his best friend.
Dark Sands aka Jericho
(Record Pictures, 1938)
1937 British drama film directed by Thornton Freeland and starring Paul Robeson, Henry Wilcoxon and Wallace Ford. It is also known by the alternative title “Jericho”
Paul Robeson considered Jericho one of his most positive accomplishments in projecting a screen image of a Black man with courage, honor, self-sacrifice and intelligence who achieves success and happiness.
The epic film begins as a World War I American troop ship is torpedoed, with many soldiers are trapped below decks. Robeson plays Jericho Jackson, a medical student drafted into the war.
Jericho heroically saves the trapped men, in defiance of his superior’s orders to abandon ship, but he accidentally kills the officer in the melee. Despite his heroism, Jericho is court-martialed for having refused an order. –more
Starring James Mason, Dorothy Dandridge, Broderick Crawford, Stuart Whitman, Katharine Bard. Directed by Andrew L. Stone
In this sea-going suspense drama, Edwin Rumill (James Mason) is the former first mate of an ocean liner who leaps at the chance to have a vessel under his full command. The SS Berwind is no ship to write home about; a freighter from the mothball fleet whose captain has recently died. The crew is often ill-tempered, and Mahia (Dorothy Dandridge), the wife of the ship’s cook, makes everyone uncomfortable with her flirtatious nature.
When the captain learns of a crew-scheme to murder him and the others, bring in the ship as salvage and sell it to the highest bidder, all hell breaks loose. +
Starring George Bancroft, Jessie Royce Landis, William ‘Stage’ Boyd, Donald Stuart. Directed by Rowland V. Lee
The life of merchant seamen is realistically portrayed in this adventure.
The story centers around two sailors who find their friendship tested when both have the opportunity to become captain. Their relationship is further strained when they fall for a Havana saloon singer (Jessie Royce Landis) who is trying to get to Rio.
They get a chance to prove their seamanship when their ship is assaulted by a terrible storm (great sea storm effects) but sparks fly when the ship grounds in a dense fog. +
Starring Edward G. Robinson, Glenn Ford, Marguerite Chapman, Edgar Buchanan, Leo Gorcey, Regis Toomey, Edward Brophy, and Lloyd Bridges. Directed by William A. Seiter
Flag-waving story of a new American destroyer, the JOHN PAUL JONES, from the day her keel is laid, to what was very nearly her last voyage. –more
Robinson portrays a hard-driving, hard-nosed perfectionist who causes dissent aboard the WWII destroyer he helped to build before re-enlisting in the Navy. Trying to emulate the perfection of his hero John Paul Jones, he drives himself as hard as he drives the younger generation of sailors he commands, going too far as he repeatedly recounts the last battle of the Bon Homme Richard to the increasingly disgruntled crew.
During a major battle Robinson proves himself a true hero, the harsh training pays off and the young sailors successfully defeat the enemy. +
Jerry Lewis stars as a navy officer who is whisked away from his honeymoon by a Senate investigating committee. The committee would like to know what happened to the USS Kornblatt, the battleship Lewis had commandeered during the War; the crew arrived home safely, but the battleship completely disappeared! Jerry suffers from a mental block concerning the Kornblatt, so the navy assigns a beautiful psychiatrist (Dina Merrill) to probe his subconscious. One of Jerry Lewis’ best films. +
Maritime Monday did an extended review of Down To The Sea In Ships
in this archive edition
On the very day that World War II is declared, a British merchant ship ship is attacked by a Nazi U-Boat, resulting in a variety of reactions from the diverse passengers; one of whom (Erwin Kalser) is a German doctor.
Constance Bennett is glamorous, Pat O’Brien is boozy, John Halliday is pensive, and everybody else is just plain terrified. +
The Dutch East Indies at the end of the nineteenth century: Tough South Seas captain of an American merchant vessel (Fred MacMurray) goes hunting for pearls on a forbidden Javanese island.
While the shipboard scenes in Fair Wind to Java are as shoddy as a high school production of Pirates of Penzance, the climactic volcanic eruption nearby island of Krakatau is masterfully staged. +
Starring John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dennis O’Keefe, William Frawley, Leonid Kinskey, J.M. Kerrigan, Grant Withers, and Paul Fix. Directed by Edward Ludwig
Republic Pictures’ rip-roaring tribute to the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (C.B.), without whom no plane would ever have gotten off the ground during WW II.
John Wayne stars as Wedge Donovan, head of civilian construction company stationed in the pre-Pearl Harbor South Pacific. Only after incurring heavy losses is Donovan given a commission and his men officially enlisted in the Navy.
As Constance Chesley, Susan Hayward finds herself in the unenviable position of being the apex in a romantic triangle involving herself, Wedge Donovan and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Yarrow (Dennis O’Keefe). Her climactic speech, explaining how it’s possible to love two men equally, is so well delivered that it transcends the essential corniness.
William Frawley stands out as Irish seabee Eddie Powers, who virtually signs his own death warrant when he begins to sing happily seconds before a sneak attack. +
When the fleet puts in at San Francisco, sailor Bake Baker (Fred Astaire) tries to rekindle the flame with his old dancing partner Sherry Martin, (Ginger Rogers) while Bake’s buddy Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott) romances Sherry’s sister Connie. But it’s not all smooth sailing… +
One of the sillier aspects of the plot hinges on raising enough money to renovate a broken-down old ship. To accomplish this, Fred and Ginger stage a lengthy musical number that must have cost five times as much money to stage as the event raised! The languorous dance rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” compensates for all the nonsense that has gone before.
One fringe benefit is spotting two fresh-faced starlets named Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. +
Four Frightened People
When bubonic plague breaks out aboard a cruise ship, four passengers panic and jump ship. They steal a lifeboat and land on an inhospitable and remote Malayan island. In order to survive, the scientist (Herbert Marshall), the schoolteacher (Claudette Colbert), the reporter (William Gargan), and the aristocrat (Mary Boland), must work together to return safely to civilization. +
(20th Century Fox, 1938)
Starring Don Ameche, Arleen Whelan, John Carradine, and Harry Carey
En route to America, Irish immigrant Arleen Whelan is the victim of shipboard masher Raymond Walburn. Pushed away by the girl, Walburn is slightly injured, whereupon he brings up charges against Whelan and holds up her entry visa at Ellis Island. War correspondent Don Ameche comes to the rescue. The film is an intriguing glimpse of immigration procedures in the prewar years. +
With the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State standing in for the Erie Canal, this romantic melodrama pleased many critics. +
The daughter of a drunken, deeply religious, self-righteous barge captain befriends a worldly tugboat worker. Unfortunately, her strict, domineering daddy, who is so hell-bent on controlling her that he did not even teach her to read, tries everything he can to stop the sailor from teaching her about real life. +
A laconic ship’s captain, Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), and his irrepressible sidekick Eddie (Walter Brennan), find themselves caught up in a web of political intrigue and deception in wartime Martinique.
Although the plot of this film bears little resemblance to the Ernest Hemingway story that inspired it, it’s still considered one of Bogie’s best and served to introduce the stunning Lauren Bacall to the movie-going world. +
Alan Ladd plays Duncan Craig, who signs onto a whaling ship to get the facts behind the death of Judy Nordahl’s (Joan Tetzel) father. Rumor has it that her father may have been murdered by Erik Bland, son of her father’s partner and her one-time lover.
While on a whaling expedition near Antarctica, Craig becomes suspicious of skipper Erik Bland (Stanley Baker). Suspicions are confirmed when Craig and Judy are targetted for an “accidental” demise in the frigid waters of the Antarctic. Duncan and Erik find themselves on rival whaleboats and, ultimately, on an ice floe. +
Based on a novel by Hammond Innes. +
Starring Noah Beery, Dorothy Davenport (Mrs. Wallace Reid), Reed Howes, Helen Foster, and James Bradbury Jr. Directed by Joseph Henabery. Silent / Black and White
A mother stows away on a ship in order to be close to her long-lost son in this seafaring melodrama from small-time company Gotham Productions. Mrs. Wallace Reid played the suffering mother whose child was taken away 20 years earlier because her husband, Captain Bronson (Noah Beery), mistakenly believed her to be unfaithful. Repenting his earlier cruelty, Captain Bronson sacrifices himself during a storm so that Tim and Mary may live. +
* this week’s header image is from a different poster for this film