Sealed Cargo (1951) Poster


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Tightly Written War Drama.
Robert J. Maxwell16 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What a neat little picture from RKO. Not a masterpiece but an unpretentious, solid, atmospheric drama and mystery about a Nazi mother ship and its cargo during World War II.

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.
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This Cargo is a Visual Delight with Suspense to Enjoy
krocheav28 January 2013
Makes me wonder why this mini classic is not better known. This marvelous tale of the Sea, not only offers very good performances by Claude Rains, Dana Andrews, and Philip Dorn, but is based on an intriguing novel "The Gaunt Woman" by Edmund Gilligan. The Screenplay receives fine treatment, with plenty of suspense by Dale Van Every (A.K.F. that other great Sea Classic: "Captains Courageous") It's the eerie look of the film thats the real star. Great, moody B/W Cinematography by George E. Diskant who gave us those fine Noir images in several other RKO features: "The Narrow Margin" - "Riffraff" - "They Live By Night" and "On Dangerous Ground". Some neat special effects also help lift the tension as it moves along.

Combined with the evocative Direction of Award Winner: Alfred Werker ("He Walked by Night" - "Lost Boundaries") 'Sealed Cargo' is packed with viewing enjoyment, filled with mystic shots (in dense fog at sea) during the dangerous days of WW11. This tale will keep any not overly demanding viewer very happily occupied for its nicely paced 90mins. Pretty Carla Balenda ("Hunt the Man Down" and much on TV) supplies the female interests and carries it off with likable style. While it's set in wartime, you would not call this a 'war' film.

RKO sure knew how to entertain audiences with a wide range of assorted themes throughout the 30's - 50's. Both Werker and Diskant went on to give some of the better shows of B/W Television their look and feel, creating a stylized look on small budgets.

Seems 'Cargo' is rarely shown, so well worth looking for. Some TV Prints are not so good, being from old CC Movietime copies, so look for a true RKO print if you can.
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Great WWII film!
Hollycon127 May 2006
This film is great for the era it was filmed in! The cast is awesome, with Dana Andrews and Claude Rains as the two main characters. I liked it, and had never seen it before the "Memorial Day" War movie weekend on TCM. This film will have you guessing and once you think you have it figured out, __________________!!! I liked it and I usually get tired of the same old..... but, this is a good movie. I recommend viewing this film even if you aren't a WAR film buff. It has an element of film noir, lighting and spooky, lots of tension. Keep an open mind. Watch it! You might learn some things you didn't know. I sure did! This film is good viewing, great special effects, remember it was in the 50's so don't confuse it with any of the special effects that are available now. I don't especially like WAR films, but this is not just a 'shoot everyone, ask questions later' type of film. Quite enjoyable!
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Nice Black & White War Film
whpratt129 May 2006
Enjoyed this 1951 Black & White film starring Dana Andrews,(Pat Bannon),"The Best Years of Our Lives",'46, where he stars as a fishing boat Capt. in a rather small boat and manages to take along a very young female as a passenger. The gal has to sort of live in a closet on the boat that was filled with all kinds of kitchen junk. Pat Bannon experiences a great storm at sea which causes many problems and then out of the blue, he runs into an abandoned sailing ship. It is War time with the Nazi's and the ocean is filled with submarines. Claude Rains, (Capt. Skalder),"The Greatest Story Ever Told",'65( King Herod), appears as the Captain of a Danish vessel and is like a sheep in wolf's clothing. Enjoyed this mysterious film and the hidden secrets which are revealed in this film.
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spiffy war picture
MartinHafer27 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The plot is very unique and difficult to believe. However, just from the viewpoint of entertainment value, it is well worth seeing.

Dana Andrews is the captain of a small fishing boat off the East Coast during WWII. They stumble upon a derelict ship that seems to have been attacked by German subs and they board her. The only one left alive is that ship's captain, Claude Rains. They agree to tow his ship carrying rum back to port. However, so much of Rains' account makes little sense that Andrews is suspicious and begins to wonder if the ship was indeed attacked by the Germans or if it actually was a helping the Germans. Later in the film, Andrews sneaks back aboard the ship and discovers its true purpose and soon after this the story gets exciting and explosive.

Believe it or not, the story was inspired by some true incidents involving seemingly harmless ships that actually were refueling and rearming stations. The story beyond that is a bit silly but still interesting.
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Suspenseful and Atmospheric War-Drama with Wide Appeal
LeonLouisRicci12 November 2016
A Taut and Tense WWII Drama that is Gripping from the Get-Go. The RKO Style does Service to a Tale, We are Told in the Prolog, that goes Virtually Unnoticed among the more Sprawling Battles in America's Fight Against Fascism.

Moody, Grim, and No-Nonsense Approach (although some may say the "Woman On Board" Plot Element is a Stretch). The Female Ingredient, was a Standard to Bolster Box-Office, but is Handled OK and Not Forced into the Narrative.

This Picture is Not Well Known in most Circles and really Surprises with Dana Andrews and Claude Rains heading a Cast of Sea Salts Butting Heads with the Nazis. Studio Bound and its B-Movie Pedigree Reveals itself but is Overwhelmed by the Witty Dialog and the Overall Atmosphere of the Frame.

Highly Recommended and even Movie Fans not usually Drawn to War Films might want to Come Aboard.
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All very average
bob the moo17 November 2003
While out on a fishing trip off Nova Scotia, a fishing crew (and some guests) come across a damaged Danish schooner which has apparently been damaged by an attack from a German U-Boat. The captain, Pat Bannon boards to find only the captain of the schooner (Capt Skalder) alive on board. However Bannon suspects something is wrong.

I love Dana Andrews and will often watch films simply because he is in them, however I got stung here because this film isn't very good. The plot is a little muddled and lacking logic, preferring a bit of `beat the Germans' flag waving instead. The sense of mystery isn't sustained towards the end of the film and is replaced by a bit of action. The action works reasonably well with Bannon in cat and mouse games with U-Boats, but it isn't great.

Andrews does OK work here, just really playing a straight, strong-jawed leading man. Balenda is an unnecessary leading lady who has little to really do. Rains is alright, adding another strong actor to the film didn't hurt even if he wasn't really well served at any point. The support cast didn't really grab me and none of them stood out either as characters of actors.

Overall this was passable for a cold, wet Saturday afternoon but no more than that. The story isn't really gripping and it doesn't have a flow to it. That said there is enough in the way of semi-mystery and thrills to make it watchable.
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Better than average war thriller
johnmperry30 October 2003
It was just on tv yesterday. Quite well cast and acted, and a good storyline too. A couple of gaping holes in the script (do trawlers fish singly?) but not entirely implausible. Apart from the female lead wearing a white coat and a white sweater on a fishing boat, and it staying white.
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one-sided, but has its moments
xrellerx29 October 2003
This is a low budget espionage action-thriller about a fisher boat that gets involved with the smuggling of bombs by the Nazis. The movie feels as if it comes straight from the RKL assembly line, but has indeed a bit of of flair due to the tension and action that kept me glued to my seat. The story is a bit one-sided since there's not much more than the action and espionage intrigue. Little time has been made free for romance for example. So, a B-movie that is not too corny and with a bit of flair. * 1/2 out of ****.
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Should have been a Lights-Out Film
Kittyman11 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I really like Dana Andrews as an actor, and he is quite good in this movie, playing a wartime fishing captain. But what should have been a lights-out war film because of plot, pacing, and performances (with one exception) flounders instead.

First, the film messes up its believability.

During World War II ships ran without lights to reduce enemy detection. On clear nights, even cigarettes could be seen miles away. Yet as Captain Andrews' vessel creeps through the fog to investigate the explosions and flames up ahead (and, incidentally, why would he want to take that risk?), its lights are all ablaze. (And this incredible goof, by itself, spoils much of the movie for me.)

Later Andrews finds the schooner he aided contains a hidden torpedo compartment. (In reality, the ship is a disguised u-boat tender.) But the compartment's dimensions don't work. From what we are shown, it appears nearly as large as a carrier hanger deck. And clearly that is too big to fit within the diminutive vessel of which it is supposed to be a part.

Second, the film sabotages its suspense.

Of Captain Andrews' two new "Danish" seaman, we are led to believe one is a good guy, the other a spy. But since a much bigger star is cast as the good guy, that decision trivializes most of the "who could be whom" suspense.

Finally, Claude Rains plays the Captain of, and the only man found aboard, the rescued schooner. This too is a mistake. For his sinister demeanor (and apparent lack of "Danishness") suggests funny business from the start. Oskar Werner (Decision Before Dawn, 1951), for example, would have been a better choice. A great actor, he was baby-faced and innocent-looking to boot, both qualities which would have helped keep us guessing.
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Resupplying The Wolfpack
bkoganbing16 September 2009
Sealed Cargo would have been a typical war film had RKO done it in 1943 when people were willing to buy these kind of plots. By 1951 this had become clearly outdated. Howard Hughes must have been going through some old scripts and/or story ideas and came up with this one and said it would be a great film still.

Dana Andrews stars in this film as Gloucester fishing boat captain whom we meet still griping because his is deemed a necessary occupation and he can't get in the fight. Still he takes his boat out for a run in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland with a special passenger in Carla Ballenda who wants to go there to meet her dad Onslow Stevens who is in the Canadian Air Force until recently invalided out.

On the way Andrews spots a deserted ghost schooner ship with only her captain still on board, Claude Rains somewhat disheveled. He gives the ship a tow into the small fishing village he was to drop Ballenda off in. But the trading schooner is a disguise for the ship being the mother ship of a Nazi U-boat wolfpack. She's carrying in a secret compartment a load of torpedoes for the U-boats to reload and do their dirtiest fighting with.

This film was so dated by 1951 the audience then must have been stunned. The players to their credit go at it with a straight face, especially Claude Rains who is a sinister figure among the ridiculous. Dana Andrews is a proper tightlipped hero.

Sealed Cargo is a World War II propaganda exercise that someone forgot to make back then and then remembered in 1951.
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edwagreen15 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
After a while, while you know who the good and bad guys are, you get somewhat confused regarding the intent of the Nazis off Newfoundland.

Dana Andrews turns out to be much more of a fisherman from Glouchester who sets out to the area above and soon takes on a woman, a nurse, who is going to see her naval father who is ailing.

There is immediate action once it's determined that the wireless on board has been tampered with. Suspicion immediately falls on Philip Dorn, a supposed Dane, who has signed on with the cargo ship.

Meeting up with a boat with Claude Rains, speaking perfect English without an accent, we soon learn who Rains really is and we think we know what his plans are.

The small village nearby has to be evacuated and it's bombs away by film's end, but we come away unsatisfied. More of this story needed to be told.
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