U. S. Navy Lieutenant Gregg Masterman (Robert Taylor), of THE Harvard and Boston Back Bay Mastermans, learned about the sea while winning silver cups sailing his yacht. He climbs swiftly in...
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Robert Z. Leonard
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U. S. Navy Lieutenant Gregg Masterman (Robert Taylor), of THE Harvard and Boston Back Bay Mastermans, learned about the sea while winning silver cups sailing his yacht. He climbs swiftly in rank, and is now Junior Aide to Rear Admiral Stephen Thomas (Charles Laughton). In contrast,Lieutenant Commander Martin J. Roberts (Brian Donlevy), enlisted in World War I, and worked his way up gradually. He retired in 1935 but has been recalled as Executive Officer of the destroyer "Cranshaw." Impressed by Roberts' vigor, the rear admiral raises him to command of the destroyer "Warren,", an over-age World War I ship that has been recommissioned. Master laughs at Roberts' new command, only to have the Admiral assign him as the Executive Officer of the "Warren," under Roberts. The ship is to join a convoy which has already left Hawaii, bound for the United States. The Flagship of the convoy is the cruiser, "Chattanooga,' with Admiral Thomas in command. On the way, a lifeboat is sighted. From it are... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
STAND BY FOR ACTION (Robert Z. Leonard, 1942) **1/2
This was another film which saw preliminary involvement in its scripting stage from Luis Bunuel during the Spanish Surrealist's tenure in Hollywood before being eventually re-vamped into a standard Hollywood flagwaver (by its blandest studio, MGM, no less). Needless to say, there remains close to nothing of what may have appealed to Bunuel's Communist ideals here; however, given the top talent at work, the movie could not fail to be entertaining (if corny and contrived in the extreme more on this later); still, the film hardly merited Leonard Maltin's hilariously dismissive single remark in response to the titular command, "We're still waiting "
In fact, the story and script numbered various noted scribes: John L. Balderston, George Bruce, R.C. Sheriff all of them, co-incidentally, former collaborators of another of my favorite film-makers i.e. James Whale and Herman J. Mankiewicz (ditto Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE ); as for the cast, we have Robert Taylor (stepping in for Robert Donat), Charles Laughton (this phase of his career was particularly unrewarding for the thespian actor, though he would return to this same milieu for one of his very last pictures, UNDER TEN FLAGS ), Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Chill Wills, Douglas Dumbrille, future director Richard Quine, etc. Most of these are strictly typecast, but get by through sheer professionalism and chemistry: the three stars play well off each other, with Taylor the cocky spoiled brat, Laughton the flustered-yet-bemused chief officer and Donlevy the dedicated skipper of an ancient destroyer re-called into active service at the start of WWII (complete with live-in and doting caretaker Brennan, of course).
Though the film makes much of the initial friction between the captain and his aide, which predictably develops into mutual understanding and, eventually, respect, its real raison d'etre was the subplot highlighting the destroyer saving 'a cargo of innocence' (the title of the story on which it was based and which had originally dealt with the Spanish Civil War!), that is to say, a stranded boat filled with evacuees from a bombed maternal hospital. This results in much cringe-inducing comedy relief Bunuel would have obviously treated the entire episode much more soberly with the men all at sea (pun intended) before this unexpected 'crisis' though, before long, a middle-aged carpenter whose wife happens to be a nurse and guitar-strumming, tune-peddling yokel Chill Wills take the situation firmly in hand; Laughton, commandeering a convoy to which the destroyer has also been appointed (not without misgivings), ultimately softens at this turn-of-events, especially after both rescued ladies proceed to give birth themselves aboard the ship!
As I said, in the face of such far-fetched happenings, to which one must add Brennan's equally sentimental attachment to the "old girl" who can still "take it" (injured at one point and relapsing to his WWI-service days, he still resolves to do his bit for Uncle Sam at the finale!), the film really does not win any marks for realism but, again, is so typical of the prevalent style in which such things were presented (including such racist expressions as Laughton's "slant-eyed Beelzebub" and "pagoda-masted buzzards") that it does not feel necessarily blander than its prototype, if decidedly routine. Nevertheless, the climactic action (yes, we do get there after all) as the scrappy destroyer risks its 'life' (with Taylor at the helm, too, since Donlevy is himself temporarily disabled) by emerging from the cover of pervasive fog to hit out at the larger Japanese battleship is quite well done, even garnering the film its sole Oscar nomination.
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