(director: Michael Anderson; screenwriters: Eric Ambler/based on the novel by Hammond Innes; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Eda Warren; music: George Duning; cast: Gary Cooper (Gideon Patch), Charlton Heston (John Sands), Michael Redgrave (Mr. Nyland), Emlyn Williams (Sir Wilfrid Falcett), Cecil Parker (The Chairman), Alexander Knox (Petrie), Virginia McKenna (Janet Taggart), Richard Harris (Higgins), Ben Wright (Mike Duncan), Peter Illing (Gunderson), Terence de Marney (Frank); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Julian Blaustein MGM; 1959)

“Crisply done sea adventure.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Adventure director Michael Anderson (“The Quiller Memorandum”/”Logan’s Run”/”Around the World in 80 Days”) helms this crisply done sea adventure originally meant for Hitchcock, who turned it down to do North By Northwest. It’s based on the popular book by Hammond Innes and the screenplay is by Eric Ambler. It was well received by the critics, but did poorly at the box office.

In the rough English Channel waters the Sea Witch, a salvage tug, spots a ghost ship, the Mary Deare, and John Sands (Charlton Heston) boards it while his partner Mike Duncan (Ben Wright) remains on the tug. While searching the freighter, Sands locates the cargo listed is of valuable airplane engines. When Sands goes below, he’s surprised by the crazed appearance of a battered looking first mate, Gideon Patch (Gary Cooper), who says that Captain Taggart is dead and when he took charge the crew abandoned the ship. Patch is not straightforward as to what happened, only saying there were a number of fires aboard the ship and he’ll tell everything at a court of inquiry. When a gale appears, Sands is unable to get back aboard his own ship and his life is saved by Patch when he can’t hold onto the ropes. But Sands must now sail with the mysterious Patch, who relates while at sea that the radio has been destroyed. Sands is then asked to blindly trust in Patch, who beaches the wrecked Mary Deare on the French Les Minquiers coral reefs and heads for shore in France where he welcomes a court of inquiry in London. He also asks Sands to keep mum about where the freighter is beached because he wants only the court investigators and not the boat owners to go after the Mary Deare, fearing they will only sink it because he’s sure there’s no longer any airplane parts aboard.

The tense film leaves us in the dark up to this point. Then the court of inquiry establishes that either Patch or the Mary Deare’s wealthy owner Gunderson (Peter Illing) is lying. Patch who has a spotty record of losing boats, whereby seven years ago he was suspended for cracking up a boat, maintains an insurance scam is being pulled and that the airplane engines were removed in a four-day port stop in Rangoon to a China-bound ship and he’s being used as a patsy, while the owner charges Patch with gross negligence. It leads to a suspenseful climax, where Patch and Sands team up in the return to the beached Mary Deare to fight off the owner’s surly henchman, the second mate, Higgins (Richard Harris), who tries to prevent them from reporting to the authorities after their sea diving adventure to the wreck that the valuable cargo is missing and that the owner is filing a bogus insurance claim.

Heston is good in a supporting role, but this is clearly Cooper’s picture and he steals every scene the two are in together.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare Poster