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In 1860, a mutinous crew forces the captain of a former
SHIP to return to Africa for another highly profitable
Sadly neglected, this is a film with some very good elements indeed. Stirring action, a little romance, a dose of humor and a social conscious are among its strengths. Although the opening shipyard scenes have a rather lean feel to their production values - with the sparse crowd of extras and the rear projection - once the plot moves to shipboard & Africa the film's quality kicks into high gear. The climax, with its gunplay & explosions, is especially exciting. The tying of the slaves to the anchor chain - a horrendous scene - anticipates AMISTAD by about 60 years.
The acting is quite good. Warner Baxter nicely underplays his role as the slaver captain who reforms upon marrying lovely Elizabeth Allan. Rumpled Wallace Beery as the First Mate & spunky Mickey Rooney as a disillusioned cabin boy are a great acting team and tremendous fun to watch. Beery was an actor who could steal a scene from anyone (except the late Marie Dressler), but he almost meets his match in Rooney. The Kid shows the vivacity & talent which would soon catapult him to Hollywood's top box office star.
Joseph Schildkraut scores in a flamboyant role as a foreign slave trader. Jane Darwell is funny in her few moments as Miss Allan's tough old mother. George Sanders plays a sophisticated mutineer & Edwin Maxwell is a nervous auctioneer. The massive Jane Jones is striking - literally - as a Virginia saloonkeeper who refuses to take nonsense from anyone.
In unbilled roles, movie mavens should recognize Lon Chaney, Jr. as a most unfortunate dock worker, and young Matthew `Stymie' Beard, of OUR GANG fame, as a boy on the wharf.
It is ironic, even with the film's sentiment for decent behavior towards Blacks, that 1930's Hollywood was still utterly racist and did not promote equal treatment for African-American performers (Asian actors fared little better). The Studios were still very segregated, Black & White stars rarely socialized on an equal footing, and racial stereotypes abounded in the movie plots. Only occasionally did Black performers' names appear in the credits and then usually at the bottom of the list. SLAVE SHIP preaches a good sermon, but the Hollywood congregation still needed to wake up & deal with its own intolerant behavior.
William Faulkner must have envisioned "Slave Ship" as a dark
commentary on the curse of slavery(the "cursed ship" element is
abandoned early on) and the studio tried to turn it into a typical
The results are strangely tasteless, unsettling, and
This is a bad movie, but one I highly recommend. The movie seems to be saying "these people veiwed things in a different way, but the best of them rose above slavery." We feel almost as much distance to movie makers, as Wallace Berry is mostly viewed as a roughish but likeable scoundrel; though we learn early on he is a genocidal mass murderer.
Though only seen in short glimpses, the inhumanity of slavery is fairly well expressed. It's the fairly casual context of subject that is allmost chilling. But see it for yourself and decide.
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Sound format: Mono
(Black and white)
Any film which opens with an unbilled Lon Chaney Jr. being crushed to death during the launching of a ship can't be all bad! And, indeed, Tay Garnett's SLAVE SHIP gets off to a cracking start with a hellish vision of the slave trade along the West African coast in 1860. Sadly, the long middle section is bogged down by muted dramatics and a number of soggy romantic interludes (Warner Baxter and Elizabeth Allan provide the offending drippery), but the rousing climax makes up for some of the longueurs. George Sanders turns up, horribly miscast, in one of his pre-stardom roles as a villainous sea-dog.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** The horrors of Trans-Atlantic slave trade is fully
exploited in the film "Slave Ship" in a way that most films at that
time in the 1930's and even now would be too squeamish to show their
It's 1860 and slavery is just about outlawed in the western world with the penalty of death to anyone still involved in it. Jim Lovett, Warren Baxter,a lifetime slaver or slave trader who made his fortune in the business has second thought of sailing with his salve ship the "Albatross" to Africa and collecting from local slave trader Daneto, Joseph Schidkraut, his quota of slave to bring back to the states where slavery is still legal.
Just married and planning to finally get out of the slave business Lovett want's to turn over a new leaf and go straight. Straight to Jamaica with his wife Nancy, Elizabeth Allan, and live on a plantation growing tobacco and sugar cane. It's when Lovett's crew headed by his first mate the beer swelling and hard drinking Jack Thompson, Wallace Beery, gets wind of his change of plans from Africa to Jamaica that they get so out of control that Lovett is forced to at gunpoint to have them leave the ship! This soon leads to an all out mutiny on he crews part. Commandeering the "Albatross" Thompson has it travel to Africa to pick up ,from Daneto, its cargo of African slaves with both Lovett and his wife Nancy held hostage. It's on the way back to America that Lovett makes his plans to retake the ship and sail it straight to the British controlled island of Saint Helena where he as well as his entire crew can very well end up hanged, for being slave traders, by the British!
Shocking film about the slave trade that shows the abused and maltreatment, as well as being murdered, that the slaves were subjected to by their masters and jailers on the slave ship. Lovett who was just as guilty as anyone else in the film in the slave trade just got to the point,in having to live with what he did, where he just couldn't take it anymore. He was even willing, unlike his fellow slave traders, to admit his participation in it even if it meant he would be hanged for it. As for Thompson & Co. they seemed totally insensitive in the crimes that they were committing against their fellow human beings and were more then willing to risk their lives, by being executed if caught, in committing them. It was only the 15 year old cabin boy Swifty, Mickey Rooney, who realized what a horrible business he was involved in and came to both Lovett and his wife Nancy's aid when Thompson and Co. were about to overrun and murder them.
**SPOILERS*** Only the films ending was a bit contrived with Lovett getting off while everyone else on board, with the exception of Swifty and Nancy, ending up paying for their crimes but it still didn't diminish what the impact of the film in showing the brutality of the slave trade to the point of drowning dozens of helpless slaves, with the ship's anchor tied around the necks, just to keep the British Authorities on the island of Saint Helena from both finding and rescuing them!
My grandmother Gladys Lehman and her partner Sam Hellman were brought
in to rework the script as WF was notoriously drunk and not getting it
done- they finished their work and sent the script to Zanuck for final
approval- the note they got back was " Can we make this movie without
the Negroes?" DZ
Gladys Lehman was born on January 24, 1892 in Gates, Oregon, USA as Gladys Collins. She was a writer, known for Meet Joe Black (1998), Death Takes a Holiday (1934) and Mexicali Rose (1929). She was married to Benjamin H. Lehman Jr. She died on April 7, 1993 in Newport Beach, California, USA.
I'm agreeing with the reviewer who said that William Faulkner who wrote
the adapted story for the screen on which Slave Ship is based
envisioned a commentary on the brutality of slavery. But I'm sure
Darryl Zanuck thinking of those southern markets turned this into an
adventure yarn. Later on post World War II it was 20th Century Fox that
was the most daring in terms of social commentary, but not now.
Warner Baxter and Wallace Beery are captain and first mate and best friends and they happen to be in the slave trading business, a business that is both illegal and declining due to British patrol vessels. Truth be told Baxter himself is sick of the misery in which he traffics. When he starts courting and marries Elizabeth Allan he decides to get out of the business.
Sad to say Beery doesn't want to do that. As he correctly points out in this illegal business you don't have a crew, you sail with partners and he proves it. The rest of the story concerns Baxter and his attempt to gain back his ship and also win Allan back as well.
Around this time Souls At Sea over at Paramount and MGM's Stand Up And Fight also dealt with the slave trade and slavery, Souls At Sea being the better film. Still both are better than Slave Ship though it is still a good adventure story.
Interesting that Darryl Zanuck also must have paid a pretty penny to Louis B. Mayer for MGM contractees Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney who were two of his most reliable box office performers. Rooney plays the ship's cabin boy and his role is far cry from Andy Hardy. A great tribute to his talents.
Good action adventure yarn and some of the scenes involving the slaves are brutal and haunting. But this could have been a lot more.
WARNER BAXTER is a Yankee sea captain who goes to church on Sundays and shyly courts pretty Elizabeth Allen as time permits. His cargo happens to be slaves purchased in West Africa for sale in America. In this movie, slaves are purchased matter-of-factly from Black Africans, get some brutal treatment on board (but not much), and the crew is happy with their work and waay dirty too. None of the slaves are portrayed as brilliant or courageous. Trouble comes when throwing the "evidence" overboard becomes an issue between the captain and the crew. Since this film was made 60 years ago, it's blessedly free of the Political Correctness spin job which sunk "Amistead." It simply never occurred to Hollywood back then to re-write history to conform to wacky leftist viewpoints which distort facts. Obviously Hollywood today is in a tizzy over the "slavery issue" and thus dozens of films like this one and such as Walt Disney's wonderful "Song of the South" --- a film depicting only former slaves --- are kept out of sight. Hush!
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