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Rulers of the Sea (1939)

Approved | | Drama | 17 December 1939 (USA)
Story of the beginnings of the steam-powered engine and its use in the first steamship voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.



(story and screenplay), (story and screenplay) | 1 more credit »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
David Gillespie
Mary Shaw
John Shaw
Captain Oliver
Malcolm Grant
Vaughan Glaser ...
Junius Smith
Donald Fenton
Lieut. Roberts
Alec Craig ...
Barlowe Borland ...
Wilson Benge ...
Harry Allen ...
Barry Macollum ...
David Cavendish ...
First Officer Lewis (as Denis d'Auburn)
David Clyde ...
Second Mate Evans


Story of the beginnings of the steam-powered engine and its use in the first steamship voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

17 December 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Les maîtres de la mer  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film is based on two original British steamships, the SS Sirius and the SS Great Western. The SS Sirius was built in 1837 and was serving the London-Cork line until the quest for steam-crossing the Atlantic took her to this adventure. She had condensers which worked with fresh water which allowed less maintenance so quicker journeys. She sailed from Cork and arrived in New York in April 22nd. 1838 after a 18-day trip, only a day ahead of the SS Great Western, which had been specially built for the Atlantic steam crossing but left England (Avonmouth, near Bristol) four days later (so she was faster, but left later). In the film the Sirius, a working replica of which was built, is renamed Dog Star (as Sirius is the dog star), but keeps her original Royal Navy captain's name (Lt. Richard Roberts). The SS Savannah, an American ship, had been the first one to cross the Atlantic in 1819 from Savannah to Liverpool, only partially using steam power and with no passengers daring to embark considering it too dangerous. See more »

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User Reviews

Rulers of the Sea is a Forgotten Gem of 1939
1 March 2015 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

I can't believe that Rulers of the Sea receives only a 6.6-star average on the IMDb.

This is a really good film. The acting of the three leads is fine, the sets are wonderful, and the way the story deals with the technical (the conquest of the Atlantic by steamships), the personal (the hardships of the inventor and his daughter, and the love between the daughter and the young captain who helps her father), and the political (the machinations of the various shipbuilders, machine shop owners, and capitalists who have interests for or against the new technology) is quite skillful.

It's not a fast-paced film, and so for people who want lots of action, it may seem dull. But it's a thoughtful film about a serious economic and humanitarian issue, with great actors in the leads and dozens of veteran character actors in the smaller parts.

I have a watchable but not very good quality copy on DVD-r which I purchased from an ebay merchant who had obviously pulled it off a television broadcast. If any company would put this out on a proper DVD I would gladly buy one, because the films looks impressive visually even on the DVD-r and would look spectacular in a cleaned-up edition.

1939 was a great year for films, and everyone knows of the big 10 or 15 films of that year. What most people don't realize is that there were just as many films in that year that were almost as good, or as good, as the more celebrated ones. Two 1939 comedies which are almost completely overlooked, Bachelor Father and Midnight, can hold their own with any screwball comedy. And there are many good dramas that hardly anyone hears about: In Name Only with Cary Grant; Juarez with Bette Davis and Brian Aherne; The Four Feathers; Rulers of the Sea, and many more.

Rulers of the Sea is a very competently executed story of early steamship travel. Lloyd knew his business as a director.

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