Maritime Monday for August 12th, 2013: Movies About Ships, Part V

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Human Torpedoes vs. Battleships!

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Sea of Lost Ships

Sea of Lost Ships
(Republic, 1953)

Through a misunderstanding, (John Derek as) Grad Matthews (son of a long line of Coast Guard officers) is booted out of the Coast Guard academy, but signs up again and starts over from the bottom.

Sea of Lost Ships insetWhen the film isn’t detailing the rivalry between Grad and his foster brother Hap, (Richard Jaeckel) over the affections of the beautiful Pat (Wanda Hendrix), it is offering several nail-biting examples of the Coast Guard’s rescue activities on the high seas.

The film’s real stars are special-effects wizards Howard and Theodore Lydecker, whose miniature work — especially a climactic rescue from an iceberg — is never less than perfect.  +

Sealed Cargo

Sealed Cargo
(RKO, 1951)

Based on The Gaunt Woman, a novel by Edmund Gilligan. Really interesting plot that’s a bit too convoluted to encapsulate here. Read the wikipedia page.

*Egregious nautical jargon error / Sealed Cargo on IMDb


Sea Wife
(20th Century Fox, 1957)

After the British evacuated Singapore in 1942, a cargo ship jammed with evacuees is sunk by a Japanese sub.  Only four people survive. A nun, an RAF officer, a godless bigoted business magnate, and a black purser get into a boat…

After 4 days adrift, they wash up on a deserted island where they must struggle to survive. The RAF officer falls in love with the nun, who neglected to alert him as to her vocation. After they are rescued, the officer begins looking for her in vain. In a later scene, he passes her (dressed in her habit) on a London street, but doesn’t recognize her. +

Sea Wolf

The Sea Wolf
(Warner Brothers, 1941

Yet more Jack London for your self-harming pleasure.

EGRCaptain of the scavenger ship Ghost, Wolf Larsen, (Edward G. Robinson) is a heartless tyrant who can tolerate no sign of weakness in anyone, and reigns over his hellish vessel in true satanic fashion. Idealistic writer Humphrey Van Weyden (Alexander Knox) and fugitive from justice Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino) are picked up by the Ghost when their ferryboat capsizes.

Realizing that their chances of getting off the boat alive are nil, Van Weyden and Ruth conspire with embittered cabin boy Leach (John Garfield) to escape.  They drift in a small open boat for days, only to return to the Ghost, which has apparently been scuttled by the mutinous crew.

Ultimately, the Ghost sinks beneath the waves, carrying Larsen and Van Weyden to their doom. Ruth and Leach manage to save themselves, rowing toward the safety of a nearby island.  +

poster for silent version released 1930

Sea Wolf Still

Lobby Card for The Sea Wolf

Wolf LarsenThe Sea-Wolf is a 1904 psychological adventure novel by American novelist Jack London about a literary critic, survivor of an ocean collision, who comes under the dominance of Wolf Larsen, the powerful and amoral sea captain who rescues him. Its first printing of forty thousand copies were immediately sold out before publication on the strength of London’s previous The Call of the Wild.

rt: Drawing of Capt. Wolf Larsen from The Sea Wolf

The personal character of the novel’s antagonist “Wolf Larsen” was attributed to a real sailor London had known, (when he sailed on the Sophia Sutherland) Captain Alex MacLean, born May 15, 1858 in East Bay, Nova Scotia. He sailed mostly in the Pacific North West with his brother, Captain Dan MacLean, and was at one time the Sheriff of Nome, Alaska.

London’s intention in writing The Sea-Wolf was “an attack on (Nietzsche’s) super-man philosophy,”and while the plot has some initial similarities to Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling in that they each have an idle, rich young man rescued from the sea and shanghaied into becoming a working sailor; the two stories differ widely in plot and moral tone.

plot summary and more on wikipedia

Sea Wolves

The Sea Wolves
(Paramount, 1980)

Set in India during World War II – Gregory Peck is Col. Lewis Pugh, backed up by Roger Moore as Capt. Gavin Stewart, David Niven as Col. Bill Grice, Patrick MacNee as Major Crossley, and several others — all retired and past the age for active duty. At issue are three German freighters parked in the waters off Goa, the Portuguese coastal colony on the subcontinent of India. Since Portugal is neutral, the regular army cannot destroy the freighters, and it is up to the retired officers and a large corps of over-the-hill volunteers to take on the mission of eliminating the German ships. *

The Seas Beneath

The Seas Beneath
(Fox, 1931)

Note the wacky dazzle paint job on the ship at right horizon

In the waning days of WWI, a U.S. “Mystery Ship,” sets sail for the coast of Spain towing a submarine. Their mission is to find and sink a U-boat that has been especially effective in attacking Allied shipping. Posing as a harmless schooner, the mystery ship is in fact fitted with a formidable gun capable of sinking a U-boat… +

Essentially a reworking of Ford’s 1930 effort Men Without Women, the story concentrates on the WWI submarine crew captained by rough-and-tumble Bob Kingsley (George O’Brien). While trying to coerce a German sub into a winner-take-all battle, Kingsley learns that his sweetheart Anna-Maria Von Stuben (Marion Lessing) is an enemy spy, and that her brother and fiancee are officers on the German vessel. +

Shanghai Madness

Shanghai Madness
(Fox, 1933)

In this military adventure, a Navy lieutenant is stripped of his rank and booted out after he fires at communist ships in China.

Shanghai Madness insetFinding himself unemployed, he saves the life of a beautiful young socialite. The girl immediately likes him and when he finally gets a job on a freighter, the plucky lass disobeys her father and stows away to be near her true love.

The boat is carrying arms for the Mandarin government, and when the brave former lieutenant saves the shipment from commie raiders, he becomes a hero, regains his rank in the Navy and marries the girl. + (image)

With little care for his studies and “itching for a chance to go and see some excitement“, Spencer Tracy enrolled in the Navy when he turned eighteen. He was sent to the Naval Training Station in North Chicago, where he was still a student when World War I ended. He achieved the rank of seaman second class, but never went to sea and was discharged in February 1919. +

Sea Squalk - Shanghaied Lovers

left: Langdon in “The Sea Squawk” (1925)  A Scottish immigrant on board ship becomes a pawn in a jewel heist aboard the S.S. Cognac +
Shanghaied Lovers (Pathé, 1924) Shanghaied on his wedding day, Harry struggles to cope with a cruel captain while fending off a sailor who seems attracted to him.

Most of Harry Langdon‘s 1920s work was produced at the famous Mack Sennett studio, where he was considered a major star. His screen character was so unique, and his antics so different from the broad Sennett slapstick, that he soon had a huge following.

Langdon insetAt the height of his film career he was considered one of the best comics of the silent film era, and was paid accordingly. His screen character was that of a wide-eyed, childlike man with an innocent’s understanding of the world and the people in it. He was also a first-class pantomimist.

By 1938, he had adopted a Caspar Milquetoast-type, henpecked-husband character that served him well. Langdon continued to work steadily in low-budget features and shorts into the 1940s, playing mild-mannered goofs. He also contributed to comedy scripts as a writer, notably for Laurel and Hardy.  The New York Times wrote, “His whole appeal was a consummate ability to look inexpressibly forlorn when confronted with manifold misfortunes.” +

His allure being primary visual, the coming of sound triggered the wane of his career. Though a contemporary of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton; their longevity eluded him. His name is virtually unknown to all but the most hardcore of silent slapstick nerds.

Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties

Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties

Sennet insetMack Sennett(1880 – 1960) was a Canadian-born American director and actor and was known as the innovator of slapstick comedy in early cinema. During his lifetime he was known at times as the “King of Comedy” With the financial backing of the New York Motion Picture Company, in 1912 Sennett founded Keystone Studios in California.

In 1915, Sennett assembled a bevy of publicity girls known as the Sennett Bathing Beauties. Clad only in provocative bathing costumes, they frequently appeared in comedy short subjects, promotional material, and in events like Venice Beach beauty contests. Though never individually featured or named, many of these young women ascended to significant careers of their own. The Sennett Bathing Beauties would continue to appear through 1928. +

Another Mack Sennett title:
The Largest Boat Ever Launched Sideways (1913):

During the launching of a large boat a dude flirts with a girl and makes her believe the ship belongs to him. He is proven to be a “four-flusher” and driven away in derision. Splendid scenes of a large boat being launched are shown.

Good luck trying to find this one.  Miss Monkey searched the intarwebs for a video or even a still from, to no avail.

Ship Ahoy

Ship Ahoy
(MGM, 1942)

Tommy DorseyThis musical — a concoction of comedy, songs, dancing, and war-time patriotism mixed together with a spy spoof plot — opens with Tommy Dorsey (image rt) and his band swinging through “Hawaiian War Chant” while Eleanor Powell taps away.

On board are some enemy agents, anxious to secretly transport their stolen plans and a prototype magnetic mine that could turn the tide of the war. The enemy agents pretend to be working for the U.S. government and enlist Powell to help them with their plans. A series of misunderstandings and confusions ensue.

Ship Ahoy takes advantage of the talents of its musical stars; including Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford, to offer a nice spread of musical numbers, including “Last Call for Love“, “I’ll Take Tallulah“, “Poor You“,  and “On Moonlight Bay“. +

video:  TOMMY DORSEY – Ship Ahoy (Trailer) and

Tommy Dorsey with Buddy Rich on drums; Ship Ahoy, Hawaiian War Chant 1942

Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools
(Columbia, 1965)

Film drama which tells the overlapping stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound to Germany from Mexico in 1933, along with 600 displaced workers in steerage, being deported from Cuba back to Spain, and a not-so-exotic band of entertainers, for whom the voyage is just a job. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Katherine Anne Porter.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Robert Clatworthy, Joseph Kish) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. +

more on AllMovie

Your respectful compiler got 15 minutes into this flick before she deemed it “unwatchable,” and acted accordingly.

Shipping News

The Shipping News
(Miramax, 2001)

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx; Kevin Spacey stars as a struggling, emotionally drained newspaper reporter who returns to Newfoundland, his ancestral home and works as a shipping columnist for the local newspaper; arrivals and departures from the local port.

Ashley Book of KnotsThe column soon evolves into a series of signature essays on boats of interest in the harbour. His work finds an appreciative audience and he begins to rebuild his life, learn some sea craft, and discover his family’s dark history. +

In the book’s acknowledgments, Proulx states, “without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley’s wonderful 1944 work, The Ashley Book of Knots, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just a thread of an idea.” Ashley’s illustrations and quotes are used as chapter headings throughout the book. +

image rt: Grandpa Lessons: The Art of Knots

The Ship from Shanghai

The Ship from Shanghai
(MGM, 1930)

Set on a transoceanic trip from Shanghai to San Francisco, the film stars Kay Johnson, Conrad Nagel, and Zeffie Tilbury as a group of incredibly annoying passengers who end up under the watchful eye of the sailors, led by the megalomaniac steward, who have revolted and taken control.

A bizarre (and pointless) rendition of Singin’ In the Rain as performed by a band of Asian men in coolie hats helps to set the tone. This badly recorded, crude early talkie will put most viewers to sleep. (more images) – (imdb)

Show Boat early

Show Boat (Universal, 1929) — Show Boat (Universal, 1936)

Show Boat (1929)

American romantic drama film based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. This version was released by Universal in two editions, one a silent film for movie theatres still not equipped for sound, and one a part-talkie with a sound prologue. Its plot line sticks much closer to the novel than to the stage production, but avoids the racial controversy that plays a prominent role in both Ferber’s novel and the Kern-Hammerstein Broadway show, which had become a smash hit and was still playing on Broadway at the same time that the 1929 film premiered.

The interracial marriage between the mulatto actress Julie and her white husband Steve, the section of Ferber’s novel that made the stage musical so unusual for its time, was completely dropped from the 1929 film to appease censors and Southern audiences. The movie was not a success. +

Show Boat 1936 full

Show Boat
(Universal, 1936)

Show Boat (1936)

The 1936 version was based on the Broadway musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. Carl Laemmle, head of Universal, had been deeply dissatisfied with the 1929 film, and had long wanted to make an all-sound version of the hit play. The film, with several members of the original Broadway cast, was begun in late 1935 and released in 1936.  *Plot summary on wikipedia

DunnAccording to film historian Miles Kreuger in his book Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical, great care was taken by director James Whale. (of Frankenstein / Bride of Frankenstein fame) to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for the 1936 film. This included the design of the show boat itself.

The 1936 version of Show Boat is considered by many film critics to be one of the classic film musicals of all time, and one of the best stage-to-film adaptations ever made. In 1996, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Paul Robeson, who played Joe in the 1936 version, got blacklisted in 1950. The film was withdrawn from circulation and would not be seen for a long time. It was not widely shown again until after Robeson’s death in 1976. + (above rt: Irene Dunne)

video: Paul Robeson – Ol’ Man River (Showboat, 1936)

Show Boat 1951

Show Boat
(MGM, 1951)

This third adaptation of Show Boat was shot in Technicolor in the typical MGM lavish style. The version of “Ol’ Man River” heard here, sung by William Warfield, is considered by film historians to be by far this picture’s finest moment, both musically and pictorially. However, the “Ol’ Man River” sequence in the 1936 film version of the show, with its tracking pan around the seated, singing figure of Paul Robeson, and its expressionistic montages of field and dock workers performing their tasks, is perhaps even more highly regarded.

The role of Joe the stevedore (played by the then-unknown William Warfield) is substantially reduced in the 1951 film, especially in comparison to Paul Robeson, whose screen time playing the same role in the 1936 film had been markedly increased because he was at the time a major star.

One glaring anachronism of the 1951 film was the redesigning of the show boat itself as a huge, luxurious paddle-wheeler with giant twin smokestacks, while real showboats were simply rectangular-shaped structures that could not move under their own power, and were pushed along by the misleadingly named towboats which were fastened to the back of the crafts. Musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger has stated in his book, (Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical) that a nineteenth-century show boat, if designed as a paddle-wheeler, would have to have placed its furnace in the middle of the auditorium. +

Ava Gardner in Show Boat 1951

Ava Gardner in 19561’s Show Boat

Lena Horne was originally to have played Julie (after Dinah Shore and Judy Garland were passed over) Studio executives were nervous about casting a glamorous black actress in one of the lead roles, so Gardner was chosen instead. +

After some unfavorable sneak previews using her real voice in her songs, Gardner’s singing voice was dubbed by vocalist Annette Warren. +

video: Ava Gardner – Can’t Help lovin´dat man

Silent Command

The Silent Command
(Fox, 1923)

Captain Richard Decatur (Edmund Lowe) is a young commander who is an undercover agent for the U.S. secret service cruising the Panama Canal zone when he uncovers an enemy plot to dynamite the famous passage. Peg Williams (Martha Mansfield) is the sultry vamp who tries to pry information out of him. Knowing she is in league with the villains, he plays along to learn more about the nefarious scheme. Richard gets drummed out of the service in disgrace only to be later reinstated as a hero for his bravery.

This patriotic film did much to spark interest in the U.S. Navy and was the first English language film for the legendary Bela Lugosi; playing (of course) a foreign saboteur.+  (more images here)

silent enemy

The Silent Enemy
(Universal International, 1959)

The Silent Enemy is based on Commander Crabb, a book by Marshall Pugh; the true story of young Lieutenant Lionel Crabb (Laurence Harvey), who in 1941 arrived in Gilbaltar to learn the rudiments of deep-sea diving.

Crabb isn’t interested in recreation, however; there’s a war on, and it is common knowledge that a band of Italian frogmen have been sabotaging the British naval forces. Without official permission, Crabb and a band of hardy volunteers take on the task of scuttling the enemy’s guerilla activities.

Silent Enemy is at its best during its underwater sequences, in which both British and Italian frogmen deploy an astonishing variety of deep-sea weaponry. +

Silent Enemy 2

The Silent Depths Explode with Violence!

CrabbLionel Kenneth “Buster” Crabb  (image rt)  OBE, GM (1909 – presumed dead 19 April 1956) was a British Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze, berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956.

After two years training for a career at sea in the school ship HMS Conway, he joined the merchant navy and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve prior to World War II.

In 1941, he joined the Royal Navy and was sent to Gibraltar the following year, where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit, destroying Italian limpet mines that enemy divers had attached to the hulls of Allied ships.

He was awarded the George Medal for his efforts and was promoted to Lieutenant commander. In 1943 he became Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy and was assigned to clear mines in the ports of Livorno and Venice. By this time he had gained the nickname “Buster”, named after U.S. actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe.

Crabb inset colorIn 1955, Crabb took frogman Sydney Knowles with him to investigate the hull of the Soviet cruiser Sverdlov to investigate its superior manoeuvrability. According to Knowles, they found a circular opening at the ship’s bow and inside it a large propeller that could be directed to give thrust to the bow. (what a cool idea!)

Forced into retirement due to his age, he was that same year recruited by MI6, (“Her Majesty’s Secret Service”).

On 19 April 1956, Crabb went under in Portsmouth Harbour to investigate the visiting Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze‘s propeller — a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to find out more about. His MI6 controller never saw him again.

keep reading


Soviet Sverdlov Class cruiser Ordzhonikidze

Commander Crabb is Aliveleft: Commander Crabb is Alive by Joseph Bernard Hutton

Fourteen months after Crabb vanished, the headless and handless body of a man in a wet suit was founded washed up on Pilsey Island, just off the coast of Sussex. The ankles were ringed with rust where, it was presumed, they had been manacled.

Crabb’s ex-wife could not positively identify the body, nor could his girlfriend, and others pointed out that, even without a head, the corpse was too tall, too slim, too dark to be the short and stocky, brown haired Crabb, but, in the end, the Coroner ruled that, yes, the dismembered corpse was Crabb’s: after all, there can’t be that many horribly mutilated bodies of divers floating around in the English Channel, can there? +

article on Crabb on

Cold War Mystery Solved? I Killed Buster Crabb Says Russian Frogman
on The Daily Mail

Book featuring Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb by ex-RN Diver
on Rum Ration; The UK Navy Network

Sydney Knowles, who has died aged 90, was a naval frogman and the diving partner of Commander Lionel “Buster” Crabb, a spy whose disappearance in 1956, during a covert mission to examine a Russian warship carrying Nikita Khrushchev, remains shrouded in mystery…  (obits on The Telegraph)

see you showboatpublicity still from the 1951 version of Show Boat

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