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Tough Caribbean freighter Captain Sam Whelan engages Sally Clark, a tramp masquerading as a missionary's daughter, to care for an abandoned baby on board his ship. En route to New York, ships mate Gatson sexually attacks her. The Captain knocks Gatson overboard in an ensuing scuffle. A romance developing between the Captain and Miss Clark is put to the test in New York after an assault investigation uncovers the girl's questionable past. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A Captain, His Woman, A Baby and two racial stereotypes
Well, this movie is certainly something. I'm just not sure what.
Gary Cooper plays the hardbitten captain of a merchant ship; while docked at a South American port someone leaves a caucasian baby in his boat. Cooper plans to take it with him to the US, he just needs someone to take care of it on the voyage. Enter Aloysius (Hamtree Harrington, what a great name) and Mark (Sidney Easton), his two African-American stewards bumbling caricatures who speak in the phony "black American" patois acceptable in early Hollywood. IE, lots of "yassirs" and bug-eyed expressions of shock. Claudette appears as a seaport "entertainer" who wants to get back to NYC; she comes aboard as the baby's surrogate, employing skills she didn't realize she had. Along the way the baby instills in her the desire to "straighten up," and her and Cooper fall in love to boot. Only, Claudette has a shady past and it seems that every other mate on the ship has had her at one dingy seaport or another all of them except for Cooper, that is, who despite being hardbitten is also a little too naïve. He buys Claudette's "my parents were missionaries who died and now I'm all alone" story and gets ruffled if anyone doubts her, ruffled to the point of fighting one of his men and knocking him overboard. It all comes to a head in NYC with a truly underwhelming courtroom scene.
Really, the whole movie is underwhelming. I mean, the film opens with a stock shot of a merchant vessel plying through the water, then a cut to the deck, and Gary Cooper ambles his way across it. THAT'S how the movie begins, no fanfare, no buildup, just another day at sea with Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper and his two racial stereotype crewmembers, that is; I have a theory that Malcolm X saw this film as a boy and it set him on his way. For truly this movie is offensive. I'm an open-minded guy and don't get offended easily, but this film goes out of its way to shoehorn every black stereotype into the characters of Aloysius and Mark. They are presented as incompetent nitwits who exist only to bulge their eyes and mutter banalities in between loud prayers to "Gawd," that is.
And it's not just that. Whole chunks of this film are composed of nothing more than a baby crying. Minute after minute evaporates as the baby screams and bawls, with various characters attempting in vain to placate it. In addition the movie is very static, paced so leisurely that it appears to be out for a Sunday drive. Cooper can do little to save it; his character is a vapid sort, and it's obvious he had a hard time reckoning the polar characteristics with which he's been foisted: we're supposed to believe his character is a non-nonsense sea captain who commands respect in his grizzled men, yet at the same time he's so naïve as to buy whole-hog Claudette's obviously fake background story. As for Claudette well, what can you expect: she's as good as ever. Her role offers her a bit more room and she does a good job portraying the whole "bad girl goes good" angle. This early in her career she still has that waiflike look big Betty Boop eyes, fragile body. I swear this lady drank some sort of elixir just compare how she looks in this film to say "Sign of The Cross," released the following year, or even "Cleopatra," from three years later. It's like she went through a second puberty.
Production-wise the movie's underwhelming as well. Don't expect the usual Paramount opulence here. Rather than a nice portrayal of a madhouse South American bar early in the film, the sets are mostly spartan-looking cabins within Cooper's ship, or the equally-austere deck. Once the ship gets back to New York we're only graced with a few stock shots of the city, and from there to a basic office room for the trial. The direction, too, offers little to appreciate; the whole thing, from beginning to end, is as basic as bread.
Special note: This film contains one of the worst line readings I've ever had the pleasure to hear. I'm talking "Ed Wood production" bad. When Claudette's back with her high-living galpals in NYC, all of them sitting around in negligees with their legs dangling in pure Pre-Code lasciviousness, she gets ribbed by them for falling in love with Cooper. Try as they might, the girls can't get Claudette to revert to her old ways. One of the galpals, a pretty blonde, shakes her head and says, "Well, I just give up." It is, by far, one of the worst deliveries of a line EVER.
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