John Wayne and Thomas Mitchell in The Long Voyage Home (1940)




(director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the play Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, The Long Voyage Home, The Moon of the Caribbees by Eugene O’Neill/Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Sherman Todd; music: Richard Hageman; cast: John Wayne (Ole Olsen), Thomas Mitchell (Aloysius ‘Drisk’ Driscoll), Ian Hunter (Smitty Smith, an alias of Thomas Fenwick), Barry Fitzgerald (Cocky), Wilfrid Lawson (Captain), John Qualen (Axel Swanson), Ward Bond (Yank), Mildred Natwick (Courtesan, Freda), Joe Sawyer (Davis), Arthur Shields (Donkeyman), Billy Bevan (Joe, Limehouse Barman), J.M. Kerrigan (Limehouse Crimp); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; United Artists; 1940)

“Mainly noted for the quality innovative photography done by cinematographer Gregg Toland.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on bringing together as one the four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill called “The Moon of the Caribbees,” “In the Zone,” “Bound East for Cardiff,” “The Long Voyage Home.” Reportedly playwright O’Neill loved this version, and called it his favorite work put to film. It’s directed by John Ford and stacked with his usual colorful characters, homespun philosophizing, drunken scenes and brawls. The black and white film is mainly noted for the quality innovative photography done by cinematographer Gregg Toland (cameraman for Citizen Kane-1941), given a free hand by Ford. The photography includes high-contrast lighting effects and many other experimental uses of the lenses, such as deep-focus compositions.

The melancholy seafaring film is set during the onset of WWII. It has a motley crew of drunks and misfits aboard the Brit freighter SS Glencairn in the West Indies, who are ready to head home after a stopover in Baltimore. But first comes a drunken brawl aboard ship for no apparent reason, as native women smuggle rum aboard the tramp steamer at the urging of the crew but against the captain’s wishes. The crew includes a naive Swedish farmboy named Ole Olsen(John Wayne), whose only wish in life is to return to his mother’s farm in Sweden (the miscast Wayne is wasted in a role that calls for him to speak with a heavy Swedish accent and say such lines as “I go home. I catch boat”). At the end of every voyage Ole gets drunk with his mates and never makes it home. The leader of the misfits is the middle-aged Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell). Smitty (Ian Hunter) is the mysterious one, who broods alone and waxes poetic about life but remains popular with the crew. Axel Swanson (John Qualen), Donkeyman (Arthur Shields) and Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald) are the old-timers who have no life but making these continuous long sea voyages.

When the ship reaches America it takes on a cargo of explosives in a move to help the war effort. Because of the dangerous cargo, the captain (Wilfrid Lawson) offers the men a 25% bonus but won’t allow them shore leave because of security reasons. Smitty has some secret reason for jumping ship, but is caught by the harbor police and taken back. Out at sea the Glencairn faces a violent storm and the crew mistakenly charges Smitty with being a German spy and hold a kangaroo court only to read his highly personal love letters from his wife aloud to learn what’s his problem–which has nothing to do with spying. There’s also the death of beloved crew member Yank (Ward Bond) to a punctured lung and an attack by German fighter planes, which kill Smitty. Back in London Smitty receives a heroes burial, and the men prepare to go on a drinking binge but promise to stay sober long enough to put Ole on his boat to Stockholm. Axel sews Ole’s money and boat ticket into his coat. On their way to see Ole off, they pass a rival freighter the Amindra that needs a seaman. Driscoll warns them the ship has a bad reputation. The men are steered by a hustler for the rival ship to the shady Joe’s bar, and end up drunk as they are plied with free liquor and girls to take in the back rooms. Freda (Mildred Natwick) is the courtesan used to get Ole to drink, and even though he safely orders a ginger beer it’s drugged. They shanghai him to the Amindra, but Driscoll leads the charge to rescue him. However, as the drunken seamen take Ole to his ship, they don’t realize that Driscoll was knocked out and the Amindra set sail. Later the men read in the newspaper that the Amindra was torpedoed.

The film was too stagebound to be effective cinema, but it scores points in its unsentimental portrait of the loser life of the lonely and desperate merchant seamen. These same misfits, who don’t fit the image of heroes, nevertheless come through as men who do their duty when the chips are down and prove they will fight for their country even though it’s not necessarily for patriotic reasons.


REVIEWED ON 9/8/2005 GRADE: B   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/