Dana Andrews is the master of the Daniel Webster, a Gloucester fisherman, like that in "The Perfect Storm." He reluctantly agrees to take along a woman, the unremarkable Carmen Balenda, and drop her off at a tiny seaport in Newfoundland, despite the threat of German submarines. On the way they run into fog and discover a Danish square-rigged schooner with all sorts of topside damage from being shot up by a sub.
In a tense scene, Andrews and his small crew investigate the ship and find the only person aboard is the Captain, Claude Raines. The cargo is rum. Andrews agrees to tow the shot-up ship to the tiny seaport that he's headed for.
I'll make the rest of this summary brief. With the Webster and the schooner both docked, Andrews sneaks back aboard the cargo ship, finds his Danish crewman also poking around, and they discover that the real cargo is "enough torpedoes to blow up every ship at sea." Raines is an officer in the German Navy and has notified his U-boats to put into port and resupply. An action climax resolves all the issues.
It's niftily put together. Alfred Werker's direction has nothing much to recommend it but the casting is well done. Andrews is his reliable stern self. And there are two Danes in his crew, each newly hired, and each suspecting the other of being a Nazi spy. One of them certainly is. Here's an example of what I mean when I say the casting is well done. It would have been SO easy to make one of the Danes, namely the spy, less attractive in some way than the other. Get an ugly guy, or a snot nose. But, no. One has an innocent, boyish face. The other is bulkier but looks and sounds genuine and sincere. Poor Henry Rowland is required to be another German, First Mate Anderson -- as he was almost always cast -- although he's just a guy from Omaha.
The dialog helps a lot. When Andrews is interrogating the two Danes, he has them speak Danish to each other. The boyish one tells Andrews, "Is not good Danish, but in Denmark are many accent, just like United States." The other remarks, "He speaks good Danish, just like learn in school." When Carmen Balenda asks her father, a Canadian Navy officer, if he thinks Claude Raines is exactly who he says he is, her father replies, "Is any man?", but nothing is made of it. It's just another of several interesting conversational exchanges. When Andrews and his crew first board the cargo ship, they find a dead body crushed by some rigging. "He's not a Danish seaman," remarks one man. "He's not a seaman of any kind," says Andrews, "Where's the weather in his face?" Further, I don't know what the background of the writer is, but the sea lingo rings true enough. "Make it fast" instead of "tie it up." An anchor is a "hook." And an "anchor watch" isn't called a "skeleton crew." The munitions hold isn't "a secret room." It's a low budget movie. The special effects are pedestrian by today's standards. But, though it's studio bound, and though a beach in Newfoundland hardly looks like the sunny California strand we see here, the set decoration is convincing enough. It LOOKS enough like an isolated fishing village nestled in a cove that you can practically smell the haddock. It all establishes a surprisingly impressive atmosphere, considering the limitations of the time.
It's not a wham-bang shoot 'em up. There's very little violence outside of the explosive climax. And Andrews may be a hero but he's no saint. When Raines refuses to reveal the location of a hostage, Andrews pistol whips the unarmed man.
Clichés aren't entirely avoided. There is the "forget-about-me-and-save-yourselves" module. And the musical score is straight out of a Charlie Chan mystery.
But that's easily overlooked in this suspenseful and modest little piece.