ABANDON SHIP! (aka: SEVEN WAVES AWAY)
(director/writer: Richard Sale; cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper; editor: Raymond Poulton; music: Arthur Bliss; cast: Tyrone Power (Alec Holmes), Mai Zetterling (Julie White), Lloyd Nolan (Frank Kelly), Stephen Boyd (Will McKinley), Moira Lister (Edith Middleton), James Hayter (“Cookie” Morrow), Laurence Naismith (Captain Paul Darrow), Clive Morton (Maj. Gen. Barrington), John Stratton (“Sparks” Clary), Eddie Byrne (Faroni), Marie Lohr (the diva), Orlando Martins (Sam Holly); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John R. Sloan; Columbia Pictures; 1957)
“Becomes too bleak to be enjoyable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Filmed in England (released in England as Seven Waves Away), and almost totally set in a lifeboat adrift in the south Atlantic. Writer-director Richard Sale (“The Girl Next Door”/”Let’s make it Legal”/”Gentlemen Marry Brunettes”) starts out with a gripping disaster adventure story at sea that soon becomes too bleak to be enjoyable, as it remains static and claustrophobic as a sea captain is faced with making life and death decisions. The idea behind the story is better than its execution, as it becomes a provocative thinking man’s film that is unfortunately overwrought in its survival of the fittest morality tale. It was remade as a TV movie The Last Survivors (1975).
The luxury liner the SS Crescent Star, on a round-the-world cruise, sinks when it hits a derelict land mine. When Captain Paul Darrow dies aboard an overcrowded lifeboat, holding some 27 people and a dog (the ship had on aboard over a thousand passengers who were killed), command is passed to the second in command, Executive Officer Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power), who is told by the captain “to try and save as many lives as possible.” Among the 27 on the lifeboat are the ship’s nurse Julie (Mai Zetterling), Alec’s love interest, a tough-minded junior officer named Will McKinley (Stephen Boyd), the ship’s cockney cook (James Hayter), the badly injured noble ship’s engineer Frank Kelly (Lloyd Nolan), the ship’s spooked radio operator “Sparks” Clary (John Stratton), a bossy general (Clive Morton), and a number of injured and non-injured male and female passengers. Since the lifeboat is supposed to hold nine to fourteen passengers at most, many passengers take turns standing on the boat’s side with life jackets in the shark infested waters. With no help on the way, since no radio message was sent, and only limited medical supplies and a small quantity of food and water, the captain has a tough decision of what to do. The decent and honorable captain soon takes the Ahab path, and at gunpoint disposes of the sick individuals by tossing them overboard thinking this is the only way to at least save some lives. The film asks the viewers to decide for themselves if he was morally right or wrong.
It’s based on a true story. At the end, we’re told that the rescued captain saved a few lives. But he was charged with murder and convicted. Because of the extenuating circumstances, he was just sentenced to six months in prison.
If one must see such a sea adventure set mostly on a lifeboat, I would instead recommend Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944). The master director is able to make a more robust film by manipulating the actors to give some rousing performances. Hitchcock also had better material to work with, as it was based on a John Steinbeck book.
REVIEWED ON 5/9/2009 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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