“Save as many as you can …”.
I’ve been on a grand total of two cruise ships, plus a bunch of ferries and other boats raging in size from canoe to schooner, but after seeing Abandon Ship! (or Seven Waves Away if you’re in the UK), I’ll probably restrict my watercraft enjoyment to playing with toy boats in a bathtub filled with maybe five inches of water.
This 1957 British drama is probably one of the more depressing sea disaster films I’ve ever seen. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, this harrowing tale gets off to a start as a luxury ocean liner, The Crescent Star hits a stray World War II mine that sinks the ship, killing most of its passengers and crew. There only time for a single lifeboat to launch before the ship goes down and that lifeboat can only fit nine people. Unfortunately (or even MORE unfortunately), twenty seven people end up in and around that lifeboat and soon, you’ll feel as if you’re in that boat with the doomed, the dying and the soon to be dead.
On the lifeboat, the ship’s executive officer Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power) needs to deal with the wounded, the tiny amount of supplies for so many people and the fact that the SOS he thought was sent out wasn’t, meaning the Crescent Star’s position wasn’t reported and no rescue is imminent. Making matters worse, the nearest land is 1500 miles away and this seems some very drastic action will need to be taken. How drastic? Let’s just say that the term “cutting your losses” doesn’t even begin to describe what takes place here. Holmes, taking a cue from a gravely injured fellow officer who spells out what needs to be done before throwing himself into the sea (!), decides to not only row to Africa, he takes it upon himself to have the worst of the injured and some older passengers dropped into the ocean (with life jackets, as he’s not a “total” cad).
Of course, not all go quietly. There are some startling moments when some he selects get in poignant some last words or even try to fight their fate. There’s a heaviness to this part of the film that’s hard to look away from and despite a few lines of eye-rolling dialogue, you’ll be wondering what you would do in this rather extreme position. Whittling down the survivors to an “acceptable” fifteen leads to a great line from one of the female survivors (Mai Zetterling) that’s one of the few amusing moments in an otherwise depressing movie. The odd thing about the film after this point is everything moves at a rocket fast pace, leaving little time for sentiment. There’s a big storm to row through, some ruminating afterward and another almost sacrifice before it’s all over.
Like Alfred Hitchcock’s excellent Lifeboat, this is pretty much a one set film. Up until the ending, all of the action takes place in a boat in a huge studio tank, meaning you get actors in the water and out of the water, no vanity and plenty of angst as a number of cruel decisions are made. The larger and more ethnically diverse cast works well together and there’s great scene where survivors try to justify their need to survive by telling bits about themselves. Let’s just say not everyone who speaks gets that ticket to row. I’m keeping this review short just so you track this one down and see it for yourself from the very beginning. Apparently, there’s a true story behind this film, but from an 1841 voyage gone wrong. I can only imagine how much more terrifying that event must have been, but if anyone ever makes a film about that disaster, guess who won’t be checking it out at a theater near me?
OK, I’m off to get some beauty sleep. I do wish I had a life jacket here to go with my pajamas, as I’ll probably have quite a nightmare about the sea, blub, blub…