Movies About Ships Part 6

Maritime Monday for August 19th, 2013: Movie Guide Part VI

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August 18, 2013

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Sink the Bismarck

Sink the Bismarck!
(20th Century Fox, 1960)

Black-and-white British war film based on the book Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C. S. Forester. To date, it is the only movie made that deals directly with the operations, chase, and sinking of the battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Its historical accuracy, in particular, met with much praise despite a number of inconsistencies.

Dana Wynter in Sink the Bismarckrt: Dana Wynter in Sink the Bismarck; Classic Film Heroines

Writers worked closely with Forester’s book, compressing events and time lines in order to make the plot taut. Along with the director, the decision was made to use a documentary-style technique, switching back-and-forth from a fairly insular war room to action taking place on remote battleships. The use of Edward R. Murrow reprising his wartime broadcasts from London also lends an air of authenticity and near-documentary feel.


“You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!”

Production began almost 20-odd years after the start of the war, just as the last major Second World War fleet units were being retired. Producer John Brabourne was able to use his influence as son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, then Chief of the Defence Staff, to obtain the full co-operation of the Admiralty.  ships involved >

The encounter between HMS Hood and Bismarck, disastrous as it was, must objectively be counted as a success, as, despite being a propaganda coup for the Germans, the damage to Bismarck was serious and ultimately resulted in its sinking and its elimination as a threat to the convoys. Damage during its battle with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales caused flooding that put Bismarck’s bow barely above the sea level… though in the film, Bismarck‘s bow remains at its normal height above water.

Sink titles

article: Sink the Bismarck on

The film fails to note that Hood at first engaged the wrong ship, firing at heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the belief it was the Bismarck. A minor continuity error involves the Hood shown firing to port while the Bismarck is firing to starboard when in fact, it was the other way around.

Another historical error was made during the night engagement between British destroyers and the Bismarck. The film portrayal shows three British hits by torpedoes, while the British destroyer HMS Solent is hit and destroyed by the Bismarck. There was no destroyer named “Solent” and no successful torpedo attack. The aircraft that finally relocated the Bismarck after she escaped detection by HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk is correctly shown as a Catalina, but the fact that it was piloted by an American Naval Reserve officer, Ensign Leonard Smith, could not be revealed until long after the war.

Sink the Bismarck SMrt: Lobby Card

Admiral Lütjens is fictitiously portrayed in the film as a stereotypical Nazi, committed to Nazism and crazed in his undaunted belief that the Bismarck is unsinkable.

In reality, Lütjens was not a supporter of the Nazi cause, and along with two other navy commanders, had publicly protested against the brutality of Kristallnacht.

The film also does not show controversial events after the Bismarck sank, including HMS Dorsetshire‘s quick departure after rescuing only 110 survivors, because the ship suspected a German U-Boat was in the area and withdrew.

Sink the Bismarck! was well received by the public, and according to box office receipts, it was in the top ten of most popular films released in Great Britain in 1960. Unlike most British war movies, however, Sink the Bismark was a surprise hit in North America, as well. +

Sink the Bismarck video

Video: Johnny Horton “Sink the Bismark”
Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. April 02, 1960

Souls at Sea

Souls at Sea
(Paramount, 1937)

Paramount’s answer to Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) was this adventure film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Frances Dee. Based on a story by Ted Lesser, the film is about the first mate on a slave ship who frees the slaves after a mutiny overthrows the ship’s captain played by Harry Carey. Gary Cooper stars as Nuggin Taylor, the first mate who is ironically, an abolitionist.

slave ship

Although the US Constitution ended the importation of slaves in 1808, slaves were still being brought into the country under foreign flags. Even though the 1833 abolition of slavery by Great Britain helped reduce legal trade in slaves by putting the Royal Navy into action against slave traders, there remained a black market in human chattel. (Here, represented by Henry Wilcoxon as Lieutenant Stanley Tarryton; a British naval officer acting on behalf of the pro-slavery interests).

Shit goes full-tilt Alpha Male when the limey’s sister (Dee) falls in love with the conscientious Coop.

Souls at Sea FIRE

Lobby Card Set of 8

An actual ship the William Brown, involved in a sea tragedy of this period (the Jacksonian Age; 1820s – 1840s) hit an iceberg on April 19, 1841, and sank with loss of life. In the movie, it catches fire, and the ship’s captain (Carey) is injured. Cooper takes command but has to limit the number of people in the one and only lifeboat, and ends up being put on trial for murder.

In actual events, seaman Alexander Holmes was tried and convicted of manslaughter, but given only a fine and six months imprisonment. +

 Spy Ship

Spy Ship
(Warner Brothers, 1942)

A radio reporter begins to suspect that a commentator at his station may be using her position to broadcast shipping information to enemy spies. With the help of the girl’s sister, he sets out to expose the spy and her Nazi gang. + (more on AllMovie)

N Korea to Put Captured US  Spy Ship on Display
PYONGYANG, North Korea July 25, 2013 (AP)

Already more than 40 years old and only lightly armed so it wouldn’t look conspicuous or threatening as it carried out its intelligence missions, the USS Pueblo was attacked and easily captured on Jan. 23, 1968. Many of the crew who served on the vessel then spent 11 months in captivity in North Korea.

Now, they want to bring the Pueblo home. She is, in fact, is still listed as a commissioned U.S. Navy vessel. With a fresh coat of paint and a new home along the Pothong River, the ship is North Korea’s greatest Cold War prize.

Steamboat Round the Bend

Steamboat Round the Bend
(Fox, 1935)

American comedy film starring Will Rogers. It was released a few weeks after his death in an airplane crash. +

Dr. John Pearly is an affable, turn-of-the-century con man who sells a patent medicine whose primary ingredient is whiskey. He resurrects a broken down steamboat with a makeshift crew and challenges the respectable but arrogant Captain Eli to a winner-take-all river race.

Steamboat Bill insetPearly hopes his nephew Duke will serve as pilot, but the young man stands accused of murdering a ‘swamp rat’ who threatened the honor of ‘swamp girl’ Fleety Belle.

rt: Pull my finger

After Duke is arrested, Pearly tries to raise money for a lawyer by charging admission to a wax museum aboard his ship. Ultimately he gambles it all in the river race to Baton Rouge, where he hopes to find a witness whose testimony will free Duke. +


The Storm
(Universal, 1938)

The film is set aboard a ship, where hostilities run high between two radio operators who happen to be brothers. During the climactic storm at sea, however, everyone pulls together to survive the ravages of Mother Nature. +

see also: lobby card

Stowaway Temple

(20th Century Fox, 1936)

Stranded in Shanghai, orphaned Ching-Ching (Shirley Temple), the ward of Chinese missionaries, is rescued from harm by playboy Tommy Randall (Robert Young). Through a series of unbelievable but entertaining circumstances, Ching-Ching inadvertently stows away on a boat bound for San Francisco, which happens to include Tommy on the passenger list. During the long voyage, our heroine plays little-miss-fixit for the shipboard romance between Tommy and Susan Parker (Alice Faye). The two marry to give Ching-Ching a proper home. +

The film was hugely successful. +

Video: Stowaway 1936 (full length) on You Tube (colorized)

Stowaway Girl

Stowaway Girl
(Paramount, 1957) French

Released in the US as Stowaway Girl, this flick top-bills Trevor Howard as Prothero, the stalwart middle-aged skipper of a tramp steamer. Though he has a weakness for alcohol, Prothero is a model of restraint when it comes to the opposite sex.

When his first mate Mario (Pedro Armendariz) smuggles the beautiful Manuela (Elsa Martinelli) on board, the captain administers a beating to Mario and sternly informs the girl that she’ll be put off the ship at the first opportunity.

It doesn’t take long, however, for Prothero to fall prey to Manuela’s considerable charms. Soon his passion is so overwhelming that he doesn’t even notice that his ship has caught fire! Despite its melodramatic trappings, Manuela is intelligently written, directed and acted. +

strange cargo

Strange Cargo (MGM, 1940)
Lobby Card Set of 8

“Strange” is right: this mystical MGM melodrama has to be the oddest of the studio’s Clark Gable-Joan Crawford vehicles. When eight prisoners escape from a New Guinea penal colony, they are picked up by a sloop commandeered by another escapee named Verne (Gable) and his trollop girl friend Julie (Joan Crawford). Among the fugitives is Cambreau (Ian Hunter), a soft-spoken, messianic character who has a profound effect on his comrades.  With Peter Lorre. more

Strange Voyage

Strange Voyage
(Monogram, 1946)

A band of adventurers sail the Mexican coast to find a buried treasure. Along the way, the seafarers encounter a variety of strange occurrences that convince them that they are on a cursed mission. The leader does all he can to quell their fears, but with raging storms, giant octopi, sharks, and a sandstorm, he has his work cut out for him. +

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark
(First National, 1932)

It is difficult to determine who is the more ferocious character in this film: The real shark seen in the underwater sequences, or star Edward G. Robinson, who plays a Portuguese tuna boat skipper–the self-styled “best damn fisherman in the Pacific” who loses his hand in a vicious shark attack while rescuing his then friend, and soon to be romantic rival, Richard Arlen. +

Tiger Shark photo

Edward G. Robinson in Tiger Shark

this woman is mine

This Woman is Mine
(Universal, 1941)

One would never know it from the title, but This Woman is Mine is a virile seafaring yarn dealing with the northern fur trade. Based on a sprawling novel by Gilbert W. Gabriel, the film takes place during a trading expedition from New York to Oregon.

Ship’s captain Jonathan Thorn (Walter Brennan) is a stern taskmaster in the Captain Bligh tradition, who demands 110 percent from his passengers and crew members, among them bookkeper Robert Stevens (Franchot Tone), French-Canadian adventurer Ovide de Montigny (John Carroll) and pretty stowaway Julie Morgan (Carol Bruce).

this woman is mine smThe anticipated romantic triangle develops, but this is forgotten when Thorn’s vessel is besieged by hostile Indians on the banks of the Columbia River.

A literally explosive conclusion more than compensates for the narrative silliness. +

Til We Meet Again

‘Til We Meet Again
(Warner Brothers, 1940)

Til We Meet Again insetAn inflated remake of 1932’s One Way Passage. As in the original, the hero is a convicted murderer en route to the death house, (being transported back to America by a policeman) aboard an ocean liner.

The heroine, (and fellow passenger) is suffering from a terminal illness. Hero and heroine fall in love, each keeping the secret of their imminent demise from the other. +

abv rt: George Brent and Merle Oberon


(20th Century Fox, 1953)

Mme. Stanwyck lays the ultimate jaw dropper on her unwanted husband (Clifton Webb) in this Edwardian soap opera that uses the sinking of the unsinkable ocean liner as a mere backdrop.

When the Pride of White Star sideswipes an iceberg and begins its slow descent in the north Atlantic, women and children are put on the lifeboats, men stay behind to face death gallantly, and the toffee nosed Webb gets a day-late and dollar-short reality check.

New Yorker magazine film critic Pauline Kael wrote:
“the actual sinking looks more like a nautical tragedy on the pond in Central Park.”

Historical (myriad) Inaccuracies on wikipedia

Titanic lobby card

Preppy Robert Wagner tries to woo stuck up socialite Audrey Dalton
Titanic (20th Century Fox, 1953) Lobby Card

Night to Remember

A Night to Remember
(Rank, 1959)

A Night to Remember, the other major pre-Cameron feature to tell the tale, was released in 1958 and is based on the 1955 book of the same name by Walter Lord. Thirty sets were constructed using the builders’ original plans for Titanic. The ship’s former Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall and survivor Lawrence Beesley acted as consultants, and by the time it premiered, it was the most expensive film ever made in Britain.

Although it won numerous awards including a Golden Globe Award for Best English-Language Foreign Film and received high praise from reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic, it was at best only a modest commercial success.  It has nonetheless aged well; and is credited with being the prototype and finest example of the disaster-film genre.

more on wikipedia

see also, wikipedia article: RMS Titanic in popular culture

A Touch of Larceny

A Touch of Larceny
(Paramount, 1960)

British comedy – Philandering submarine captain Max Easton (James Mason), now desk-bound and twiddling his thumbs in the Admiralty, connives a hair-brained get-rich-quick scheme to capture the eye of lovely American widow Virginia Killain (Vera Miles).

He hatches a plot to disappear under circumstances that suggest he has defected, maroons himself on a desert island and waits for rescue, with the intention of suing the newspapers for slander when he returns an innocent man. Unfortunately for him, Virginia doesn’t take much notice… at least not at first. (imdb) (allmovie)

Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round

Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round
(United Artists, 1934)
Lobby Cards; set of 8

While crossing the Atlantic aboard a luxury liner, a radio troupe (led by Jack Benny) becomes involved in a murder mystery.   A gem replete with gangsters, music, dancing, comedy, and romance.

more detailed plot synopsis on IMDb

Transatlantic Tunnel

The Transatlantic Tunnel
(Gaumont, 1935)

Based on the 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann; Transatlantic Tunnel is the English-language version of the 1932 French-German speculative drama The Tunnel.

rt: Journey through The Transatlantic Tunnel

Trans Tunnel insetSet sometime in the future (complete with two-way televisions, art-deco airships and self-propelled automobiles), the film stars Richard Dix as McAllen, a visionary architect who devotes his life to the construction of a tunnel linking the United States with England.

As the tunnel nears completion, workers encounter a submarine volcano that will necessitate a detour.  Samples indicate the volcano may be too large to drill around, and as the special “radium drill” breaks through it, volcanic gases escape, killing hundreds of workers.

Despite devastating professional and personal setbacks, including the death of his own son in a cave-in, nothing dissuades Dix from completing the project. + With three remaining volunteers, McAllan and Robbins man the drill and, despite near-fatal temperatures, break through to the American side of the tunnel. +

The special effects are remarkable and the futuristic production designs are gorgeous. There are some truly gripping moments in this fine motion picture. Especially memorable is the huge mechanism that drills the tunnel beneath the ocean. +

more on wikipedia

trans tunnel news

article: A Film Rumination: Transatlantic Tunnel (1935)

article: Transatlantic Tunnel on FilmFanatic

Watch: Transatlantic Tunnel here  – or here for smartphone


header: Italian poster for Titanic (20th Century Fox, 1953)

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