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Aboard the U.S. submarine S13 in the China seas, Chief Torpedoman Burke goes about his duties. In actuality, he is Quartermaine, the infamous former commander of the British ship Royal Scot, which was sunk by Germans with a Field Marshal aboard. Quartermaine had told his sweetheart that the Field Marshal would be aboard, not knowing that she was an informant for the enemy. When the S13 sinks, Burke takes charge when the commander, Ensign Price, is unable to command. Burke must keep his mates alive long enough on the bottom of the sea for rescuers to arrive. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
John Ford was taking some hesitant steps in his feature films from 1928 to 1931 with the advent of the talking motion picture. In Men Without Women there are bits of dialog, a lot of sound effects, some singing, but it is still mostly a silent picture. It's also a pretty good one, despite the suggestive title. Men Without Women refers to the crew on a US submarine between the World Wars and in this case the sub is on duty in the China Seas.
An accident at sea sends the submarine to the bottom with the only survivors the slightly more than a dozen men who are in the forward area of the ship. Command is now in the hands of the only surviving officer, Ensign Frank Albertson who just reported for duty in Shanghai on his first assignment. He's green and not really experienced for the job.
The one who holds the crew together is Kenneth McKenna the chief torpedoman who has a past. During the first World War McKenna was a British submarine commander who in some pillow talk with his enemy agent girl friend divulged he was taking a British Field Marshal on a secret mission. The submarine sank, but he survived and he never reported back. In fact the commander of the rescue ship which is British thought he recognized McKenna. All that could be rescued are rescued, but some don't make it, a lot like the Poseidon Adventure.
This has to be the most claustrophobic film John Ford ever did. Most of the last 60% of the movie is in that submarine forward room and Ford does a great job with his ensemble cast. I find it ironic though because Ford is identified with photographing those wide open spaces in Monument Valley for his westerns. This shows he could handle a closed in environment. Those submarines back then didn't even have the capacity to submerge as long World War II vessels did let alone modern subs.
There are some fine scenes of the sea rescue and you can even catch a glimpse of John Wayne as the radio operator on the rescue vessel. The Duke had one fine head of hair in those salad days, but he's unmistakable.
All in all one of the best early sound films from John Ford.
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