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SOULS AT SEA (director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: story by Ted Lesser/Grover Jones/Richard Talmadge/Dale Van Every; cinematographer: Merritt Gerstad/ Charles Lang Jr.; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Boris Morros; cast: Gary Cooper (Michael “Nuggin” Taylor), George Raft (Powdah), Frances Dee (Margaret Tarryton), Robert Cummings (George Martin), Stanley Fields (Capt. Granly), Joseph Schildkraut (Gaston de Bastonet), Virginia Weidler (Tina), Olympe Bradna (Babsie), George Zucco (Woodley), Porter Hall (Court prosecutor), Henry Wilcoxon (Stanley Tarryton), Harry Carey (Captain of “William Brown”), Monte Blue (Mate), Charles Middleton (Jury foreman), William Stack (Judge), Gilbert Emery (Capt. Martisel), Tully Marshall (Pecora); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Adolph Zukor; MCA Universal Home Entertainment (Paramount; 1937)
This obscure film is so wonderful because Raft and Cooper are dynamite together. So who knew both laconic actors could be so animated and such a joy to watch together!

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Action- packed romantic adventure story directed with a boldness by the noted bully to his actors filmmaker Henry Hathaway(“True Grit”/”Call Northside 777″/”Rawhide”). It’s based on a story by Ted Lesser. The screenplay is written by Grover Jones, Richard Talmadge and Dale Van Every. It tells of a true incident that happened in 1841 to the ship called the William Brown.

It opens at a trial in Philadelphia, in 1842, where the sailor Michael “Nuggin” Taylor (Gary Cooper) is unfairly on trial for saving himself while others died he left behind from the the shipwreck of the William Brown. In court the story unfolds in flashback.

The loquacious Shakespeare literate Nuggin, secretly an abolitionist, is the new first mate on a slave ship called the Blackbird. When the evil Capt. Granly (Stanley Fields), a big operator as a slaver out of Savannah, is murdered by the slaves for abusing them, Nuggin agrees to assume command, as his pal and uneducated senior mate Powdah (George Raft) wants no part of authority. Nuggin sets the cargo of 600 hundred slaves free and subsequently allows a British patrol ship to stop the ship and take him back under arrest as a mutineer and slaver to Liverpool. The case is dismissed for lack of evidence. But Nuggin is approached by the savvy naval intelligence agent, Barton Woodley (George Zucco), to work a scheme to help put a halt to the slave trade business forever. Nuggin and Powdah sail on the William Brown for Savannah, with Powdah unaware of Nuggin’s deal. Also aboard is Lt. Stanley Tarryton (Henry Wilcoxon), the greedy secret slaver, in an unholy business partnership with the ruthless British businessman Pecora (Tully Marshall), and suspecting Nuggin of being an anti-slaver.

Stanley goes to Savannah to make arrangements to take on Granley’s established slave trading routes and contacts. He is forced to bring on the voyage his attractive sister Margaret (Frances Dee), so she won’t talk. Nuggin falls madly in love with her and she’s receptive, to the great displeasure of brother Stanley. Meanwhile Powdah falls for the sincere Babsie (Olympe Bradna), a lady’s maid, who wants a new start in life in the new world and to no longer be a servant. Tragedy strikes the ship when a friendly immigrant little girl (Virginia Weidler) accidentally knocks over an oil lamp and the ship catches fire. There’s only one lifeboat and Nuggin puts Margaret in it. Babsie is severely injured when pinned under a falling beam and Powdah stays with her on the sinking ship. When the vile Stanley tries to force his way onto the lifeboat, he’s tossed overboard by Nuggin. While Nuggin is keeping out a number of men rushing the overcrowded lifeboat, Powdah knocks him out and tosses him in the lifeboat. Then Nuggin skillfully sails it to America.

In the end, the agent tells the court the truth of Nuggin’s mission, and he’s freed and forgiven by Margaret.

This obscure film is so wonderful because Raft and Cooper are dynamite together. So who knew both laconic actors could be so animated and such a joy to watch together!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”