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Tom Merriam takes a job as the Third Officer on the cargo ship The
Altair. Despite a strange interaction with a blind man in port, things
look good for Tom as the ship appears good and the Captain is amiable
enough. Finding that his bed is still a mess from when the last Third
died there is a little disturbing but he gets past it and begins to
work. When the Captain puts lives at risk rather than be seen to have
his authority questioned by Merriam, Tom starts to worry that the
Captain is living within his own head too much a worry reinforced
when more men and put at risk and deaths are caused; but how can he
change things? Apparently commissioned because RKO had an expensive
ship set knocking around that they wanted to get more use out of, this
film is surprisingly enjoyable and works because it tries to shun
melodrama and be something much more interesting. This is not to say it
totally does this, because it doesn't, but it does have plenty of good
things about it. The story is fairly standard in appearance but the
Captain's "madness" is convincing and realistic he is not a gibbering
loon but rather a man who appears to have lost touch with reality
thanks to a lonely and sad life to date. Within this story the script
develops the characters well so that they rise above being the stock
figures of b-movie fare. With a low key story, the production still
really goes for it on atmosphere and produces an air of foreboding and
menace that is present from the very start. Shadows are well used, fog
drifts over the decks and the music is constantly moving darkly in the
background menacing without ever being overused or overbearing.
The cast do very well with this product. Wade was surprisingly good in the lead and it made me wonder why I have never knowingly seen him in anything else. He was a pretty regular guy and came off natural rather than being the square-jawed hero that is often the norm. He plays second fiddle to Dix though, who sets up a strangely friendly character who convincingly moves into a sort of madness that is convincing. He avoids being a monster and naturally questions himself while also producing a character that we feel for Dix is not just a "baddie" to Wade's "goodie". Barrett is so-so but the film didn't need her and her scene slows the film by taking it off the ship albeit briefly. Support is good from Glover, Overall an enjoyable film that produces the goods on many levels and is much better than I thought it was going to be. The plot seems simple but the writing respect the audience and makes the story more interesting than the usual goodie/baddie fare. The atmospheric and tense production only helps to produce a punchy, mysterious film that is well worth seeing even if the ending needed to be a bit stronger and darker but this is a minor flaw.
The title of this film is misleading as it implies a ghost
story.....but of course, it isn't. In fact it isn't even a horror film
in the general sense. It is more a psychological thriller, surrounding
the personality of the ship's captain, played by that old war horse,
Richard Dix. And he does a terrific job of letting the viewer glimpse
the madness beneath his controlled exterior. His byword is "authority"
and he goes to unbelievable lengths to assert that authority.
Russell Wade, with whom I am unfamiliar, plays the Third Officer, who sees through the captain in short order and vainly attempts to convince the crew of Dix's insanity......but to no avail. The only person who is aware of the problem is a mute played by probably one of the most unattractive and busiest character players in Hollywood, Skelton Knaggs and he becomes somewhat of a hero in the final few minutes of the film. Edith Barrett, who was used by Lewton in other films, makes a limited appearance as the captain's inamorata. Look for Lawrence Tierney, future Hollywood bad boy, as a target of the captain's revenge.
Val Lewton was the master of atmospheric films made on a limited budget and he doesn't miss with this one. It's a dandy!!
This was pretty good entry in the Val Lewton Horror Collection, even
though it's anything but "horror." This film is a straight drama,
almost a film noir about a paranoid sea captain (Richard Dix) who
eliminates anyone who disagrees with his "authority," a key word in
Russell Wade is the captain's protégé, and the story really centers around him and the conflict he has with his boss after he begins to find out what a violent nutcase he happens to be. Along the way, it was noteworthy to see Lawrence Tierney play one of the captain's victims.
Also good was Jacob "Sparks" Winslow as the ship's radio operator. This is an involving film as we root for Wade to expose this captain and to convince others that the man with the "authority" is an evil person.
Perhaps not as mesmerizing as "Cat People" or as disturbing as "The Body Snatcher", but this still definitely is a genuinely creepy golden oldie horror gem like only the great Val Lewton could produce them back in the 1940's. This dark and atmospheric chiller takes us aboard a giant ship in order to examine the mysterious deaths of several crew members. They all seem like unfortunate accidents, but pretty soon the young and ambitious officer Tom Merriam suspects that Captain Will Stone abuses his power in order to get rid of rebellious personnel. The film is terrifically cut in half when the ship sets ashore and Merriam prosecutes the influential and highly respected captain. From then on, the nemesis between the two is frighteningly illustrated and a drama on-board the ship seems inevitable. Richard Dix is outstanding as the tormented Captain Will Stone! He looks naturally eerie and definitely not man to argue with. The black and white photography is stunning and the constantly sung sailor-song will remain stuck in your head, even long after you finished watching the movie. The Val Lewton horror of course isn't very explicit (considering the time and budget) but this movie does contain at least one truly unsettling sequence; when a giant chain crushes a crew member. My advise is to watch this classic as soon as you can, if it were only for the ultra-eerie mute in the supportive cast!
This Val Lewton produced film is not what one would likely expect from the title: a ghost story...so don't expect that going in. It isn't even really an Horror film per se although there are elements at work here which will prove horrific to many viewers. What it is instead is a seafaring adventure yarn about a Captain who's slowly going mad (and homicidal) due to his obsession with authority and only our heroic lead Tom Merriam, the 3rd Officer, seems to want to do anything about it. Everyone else seems to either not believe Merriam or dismisses what he tells them for fear of losing their jobs. Merriam however retains his values and ethics throughout the film even when they don't work out in his favor. While the film possesses the mood and style one expects from Lewton's films, the content and in some cases atmosphere is really not what one expects from the producer. Also events here do seem to wrap themselves up much too quickly. Still all in all there's enough good stuff here that this film is definitely worth seeking out.
I had never heard of this Val Lewton production till it recently showed up
on television. Yet, as directed by Mark Robson, it is one of Lewton's very
Russell Wade as the young sailor who is menaced by mentally off-balance captain Richard Dix is handsome and very persuasive. What happened to this actor? I had never heard of him before, either.
The movie has a marvelously eerie, foreboding quality that is maintained throughout, from the blind soothsayer we see before Tom Merriam (Wade) boards the ship, through the sea chanteys, Caribbean songs, the heroic mute sailor.
I generally shy away from all-male casts but in this case, the claustrophobic nature of the plot would have been maintained better had it not been "opened out," albeit briefly, with the scene onshore involving the third billed admirer of Dix.
(Her friend, whom we see greeting Wade at the end in silhouette, is a plot device to imply a happy ending. This is OK because the damage to our nerves has already been done. Dix has already had several of his crew killed and has almost succeeded in doing away with Wade.)
Tom Merriam is a third mate on the Altair, a cargo ship headed by Captain Stone, who Merriam looks to as a father figure, since Stone has the experience and the full loyalty of the crew. Merriam's opinion of his commanding officer is changed after a series of events (including the death of a mate due the captain's interference) and Merriam believes that Stone is unfit to command the ship. A hearing at the ship's port has the crew and line agent side with Stone, and Merriam is relieved of his duties as third mate. While on shore, Merriam is knocked out for trying to stop a fight, and is put back on the Altair much to his and Stone's disapproval. Stone says Merriam is now a guest on the ship, but the crew shuns him and Merriam believes that Stone is going totally insane and plans to kill Merriam, who now has to find someone to believe him before its too late. Underrated (and for a long time, unseen) classic from the Lewton-RKO 9, with above average script, camera-work, cinematography, but highlighted by probably Dix's best performance as Stone, as a man who is insane try to fool himself and those around him by acting normal. Excellent moments of suspense (especially for me when Merriam notices the lock missing from his door) make this a film one to get a hold of. Rating, 8.
The rarest of the Val Lewton horror films. Exceptional chiller about a much beloved Sea Captain (Richard Dix) slowly going mad. What makes the film stand out are a few key scenes- an anchor blindly swings above the deck, crushing portions of the boat while frightened sailors try to stop it- Dix locking a man in a room sized container for the anchor chain- Dix and a very unlikely hero having a bloody knife fight in the dark while unsuspecting sailors play Calypso music not far away. Not up there with Lewton's "Cat People", or "Seventh Victim", but a good horror classic nevertheless.
Director Mark Robson and producer Val Lewton team up one more time for this interesting film that surprisingly has nothing at all to do with ghosts or any other supernatural phenomena. Russel Wade takes his new officer position aboard a boat under the control of Captain Richard Dix. Dix outwardly seems gentle and benign but slowly dissipates into a mad man obsessed with his control aboard the ship. Obsessed to the point of killing. Though not what you might initially expect, this film is very effectively done. Wade and Dix both do splendid jobs assaying their respective roles. Dix in particular shows depth of character that manages to not seem one-dimensional. The life on the ship seems very real, and we the audience are lassoed into the trip that begins peaceful and ends in a tempest of turmoil. Robson, under Lewton's watchful eyes, creates suspense and tension while using virtually no budget and little action. There are some obvious corollaries made to Moby Dick. The blind soothsayer at the beginning of the journey foretelling doom ahead for the voyage. The young, new man with little real-life experience as the protagonist, and a captain bent on chasing his own white whale - his meaningless existence on the big sea as he clutches for the only thing within his grasp. A fine, thoughtful examination of life at sea when office politics turn bad.
The picture deals with Tom (Russell Wade), a third officer who embarks
on the ship Altair under command the stiff Captain Stone (Richard Dix)
. Strange deaths of crew seamen originate confrontation among different
personalities : a distrustful officer and a tough captain obsessed with
Tension and suspense are continued and appear menacing and lurking in cabins , stairs , docks and pier . The movie has the expressionist Germanic atmosphere ; besides , being reflected in the captain's bizarre and quirky interpretation . Cinematographer Nicholas Musuruca (Cat people and Stranger on third floor) creates a magnificent camera-work , along with John Alton are the essential artificers of Noir cinema atmosphere . Cinematography is excellent , dark and lights are originating eerie and creepy scenarios . The film is produced by RKO (Radio Picture Inc.) and by Val Lewton , the great producer of horror classics (Cat people , Leopard man , I walked with a zombie) ; plus , he produced for director Mark Robson various movies (Bedlan , Isle of the dead and Seventh victim) in similar conditions . Habitual RKO musician , Roy Webb , composes an atmospheric score with the usual musical director Bakaleinikoff . Good production design in charge of Albert D'Agostino . RKO had built an expensive ship set for their 1938 production Pacific Liner (1939) , Val Lewton was given instructions to come up with a film that could use the still existing set . The motion picture well well directed by Mark Robson . The picture will appeal to classic cinema buffs.
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