(director: Lloyd Bacon; screenwriters: story Heroes Without Uniform by Guy Gilpatric/A.I. Bezzerides/W.R. Burnett/John Howard Lawson; cinematographer: Ted McCord; editor: George Amy; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Lieutenant Joe Rossi), Raymond Massey (Captain Steve Jarvis), Alan Hale (Boot O’Hara), Julie Bishop (Pearl O’Neill), Ruth Gordon (Mrs. Sarah Jarvis), Sam Levene (Chips Abrams), Dane Clark (Johnny Pulaski), Dick Hogan (Cadet Robert Parker), Art Gilmore (voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jerry Wald/Jack L. Warner; Warner Bros.; 1943)

“Exciting formulaic war propaganda sea story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Exciting formulaic war propaganda sea story that pays homage to the American Merchant Marines and their role during World War II. Lloyd Bacon (“42nd Street”/”The French Line”) was director and shot the entire film on the Warner sound stage. It has brilliant special effects, a tight pace, is gritty and has the usual ethnic mix (with Sam Levene as the guy from Brooklyn, Alan Hale as the spunky comical Irishman and Dane Clark as the tough Polish family value man). It’s based on the story “Heroes Without Uniform” by Guy Gilpatric, and is written by John Howard Lawson (blacklisted in 1948 and spent a year in jail for not testifying in front of the HUAC) with additional dialogue by A.I. Bezzerides. The merchant seaman’s union was in the hands of the Communists at the time, which allowed the leftist Lawson to make hay over the fact that the Americans and the Soviets were fighting on the same side against the fascists in the midst of all the usual patriotic gestures made to the war effort. It’s also worth noting that Don Siegel, future gifted director, did the excellent montage scenes.

The Merchant Marines’ oil tanker Northern Star is torpedoed by a Nazi submarine in the North Atlantic. Gung-ho Captain Steve Jarvis (Raymond Massey), easy-going First Officer, Lieutenant, Joe Rossi (Humphrey Bogart) and most of the men survive and evacuate by lifeboat through an oil slick, but the mean-spirited Nazis ram their boat and crush it. After eleven days at sea on a raft without food and water, the men are rescued by the Navy.

The men wait at home for another ship. We follow Steve as he’s welcomed home by his loving wife Sarah (Ruth Gordon), who worries that hubby is a seaman but tries not to show it. Joe hangs out at the local bar and meets singer Pearl O’Neill (Julie Bishop), whom he marries before shipping out. The men anxiously board their new ship called the Sea Witch, which is assigned to an international convoy bringing supplies to Murmansk in the Soviet Union. There are battles along the way between the United States naval destroyers and German U-boats, whereas one submarine zeroes in on the Sea Witch. Steve has the Sea Witch lure the submarine away from the convoy, while Joe has the engines cut to run in complete silence figuring the submarine won’t be able to locate them. The German captain radios for air support, in the ensuing battle several men are killed and Steve is severely wounded in the leg. Joe takes over as captain and orders the men to return fire on the bombers. This gets the submarine to surface, whereas the Sea Witch rams it and Soviet planes appear to save the day. The climactic “tovarich” (comrade) scene has the heroic Bogart character and his men greeted by cheering Russians, which was fine when America was friendly with their Red allies but not during the paranoid Cold War days when it became an embarrassment for Warners. The film ends with the encouraging radio voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Art Gilmore) saying “nothing shall prevent our final victory.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”