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Silent screen star John Bowers, who had not worked in films since the advent of sound crippled his career in 1931 heard that old friend Henry Hathaway was shooting "Souls at Sea" on Caralina Island. He rented a sixteen foot sloop and sailed there, hoping to land a part. Unfortunately he did not, and he left the island but did not return, his drowned body washing up on the shore at Santa Monica. His apparent suicide was the inspiration for the character of Norman Maine in the three versions of "A Star Is Born." See more »
I was hoping for a melodrama instead, but the emphasis here is on the narrative rather than on action. But I am pleased to report that my headline is accurate, because "Souls At Sea" is a very interesting story about a subject barely touched upon in Hollywood's long, colorful history. Reading through other reviewers takes on the film, it qualifies more accurately as a semi-historical drama, although not the first story Hollywood has taken liberties with. The temptation is to call "Souls At Sea" a 'seafaring yarn', but, as I said, it is heavy on talk and light on second unit work.
In any case, this offbeat movie has Gary Cooper faced with a moral dilemma as an abolitionist involved in the slave trade in the middle of the 19th century. His sidekick is George Raft, in as sympathetic a role as he ever had and one of his best acting jobs (never one of his strong points). Frances Dee is an ingenue on board the ship in question, and George Zucco plays a good guy for a change. Particularly effective is the background music which won an AA nomination for composer Milan Roder. Henry Wilcoxon is an effective bad guy and Olympe Bradna, whose film appearances were too few, is touching as a maidservant and love interest for George Raft.
Very well done, as is the norm with a Henry Hathaway picture. The story is so absorbing that the viewer nearly forgets about the lack of action scenes, and is well worth my rating of seven.
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