(director: John Farrow; screenwriters: from book by Andrew Geer “Sea Chase”/James Warner Bellah/John Twist; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: William H. Ziegler; cast: John Wayne (Capt. Karl Ehrlich), Lana Turner (Elsa Keller),Tab Hunter (Cadet Wesser), David Farrar (Comdr. Napier), Lyle Bettger (Kirchner), James Arness (Schlieter), Claude Aikins (Winkler), John Qualen (Chief Schmidt), Alan Lee (Brounck), Dick Davalos (Stemme), Paul Fix (Heinz); Runtime: 117; Warner Bros.; 1955)

“This letterboxed video version was watchable only to see how Lana acts while wearing furs…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A tough film to sympathize with the stars, as one is almost forced to root for the Germans and against the British; the miscast stars are John Wayne as a German sea captain obsessed with getting his freighter back to the motherland, while Lana Turner is a Teutonic siren who works for the Nazis as an intelligent agent. The film is a muddled effort to make them into hero and heroine, and the effort to do that seemed to misfire somewhere in the long sea journey home for Wayne.

German Captain Karl Ehrlich (Wayne) is in a Sydney, Australia, port just as Hitler invades Poland and WW11 is declared. He’s opposed to the Nazis and favors the old Imperial government, but is obsessed with getting his Ergenstrasse crew home. Why this is so, sure beats me. But before sneaking out of a foggy Sydney port he meets his old friend, British Naval Commander Jeff Napier (Farrar), who introduces him to his future wife Elsa Keller (Lana). Erlich recognizes her as a spy and can’t let his good buddy go through with this sham of a marriage, so he tells her to leave Jeff or he’ll tell him. Why this key naval officer would not suspect his German-born wife of being a spy, seems incredulous. But when he finds that she left him because of Ehrlich, their friendship is suddenly over and when Ehrlich’s freighter gives him the slip and escapes internment he becomes obsessed with capturing this worthless ship and doggedly pursues it for the rest of the film.

Ehrlich’s problems are the following: that Elsa, someone who threatened to get even with him for what he did, is ordered to sail with him by the consul general; he doesn’t have enough fuel, so he chops up the lifeboats and heads to the Auckland Islands to get provisions at a food station for wrecked ships; and, last but not least, his Chief Officer Kirchner (Bettger) is a starry-eyed Nazi intelligence officer who has a different agenda from his.

At the Auckland Island provision center, Kirchner kills some unarmed British fishermen and causes the freighter to be hunted down as a criminal ship. Ehrlich doesn’t learn of this incident until later, but when he does he forces Kirchner to write it down in the log the way it happened.

Kirchner tries to form a partnership with Elsa, but Ehrlich manages to keep them apart as they head to the Pom Pom Galli, an island where they cut down trees for wood and Ehrlich and Elsa fall in love. We are suddenly asked to believe that she’s not such a bad Nazi after all, it’s only Kirchner who is the bad one. The crew is made up of assorted gung-ho cliché types, and one resister (Arness). Arness has to be convinced his captain is really a good guy who is only working them long hours because he really cares about them, before he can warm up to him. When he is convinced of this, he’s a willing worker for the cause to get back home.

Through the captain’s great seamanship they reach the neutral port of Valparaiso ahead of the British in pursuit, and are given a hero’s welcome for outfoxing the superior British ship. But the British falsely accuse Ehrlich of the murders on the Auckland and want to bring him to justice. He could stay safely in Valparaiso, but chooses to take his chances on the dangerous seas. When he reaches the North Sea after fighting off a storm and is close to Norway, the Nazi government gives away his position to the British and Napier corners him. Ehrlich has his men go aboard Napier’s boat with the log, and he remains with the ship and keeps Kirchner with him; but, he’s surprised that Elsa comes back to join him. Napier fires on the freighter and destroys it. The film ends in mystery, as it is not certain if Ehrlich and Elsa escaped or were killed. As for me, I could care less–this was one of The Duke’s poorer films. It was a tedious chase involving an irrelevant story, and the dialogue was just atrocious. This letterboxed video version was watchable only to see how Lana acts while wearing furs, evening dresses, and tight sweaters aboard the freighter. The Ice Queen’s romance with Wayne was tepid.

REVIEWED ON 7/23/2001 GRADE: C –