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The Cruel Sea (1953)

 -  Drama | War  -  19 August 1953 (USA)
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The World War II adventures of a British convoy escort ship and its officers.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Stratton ...
John Warner ...
Bruce Seton ...
Liam Redmond ...
Julie Hallam
Moira Lister ...
Elaine Morell
June Thorburn ...
Doris Ferraby
Megs Jenkins ...
Tallow's Sister
Meredith Edwards ...
Yeoman Wells
Glyn Houston ...


At the start of World War II, Cmdr. Ericson is assigned to convoy escort HMS Compass Rose with inexperienced officers and men just out of training. The winter seas make life miserable enough, but the men must also harden themselves to rescuing survivors of U-Boat attacks, while seldom able to strike back. Traumatic events afloat and ashore create a warm bond between the skipper and his first officer. Atmospheric sea footage. Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

escort | convoy | sea | u boat | survivor | See All (38) »


Monsarrat's brilliant best seller comes surging to life


Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

19 August 1953 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Det grymma havet  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)| (Gaumont Kalee)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Donald Sinden had lessons to make him talk in a higher-pitched manner, as the producers felt his real voice was too deep for the young character he played. See more »


Some depth charges are clearly labelled "INERT FILLED." See more »


Tallow: If anyone else makes a noise, I'll have his guts for a necktie.
See more »


Referenced in Hitler: The Comedy Years (2007) See more »


The Chestnut Tree
or "The Spreading Chestnut Tree" (uncredited)
Author unknown, perhaps traditional song
Sung by the sailors in the raft to keep wake
See more »

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User Reviews

A well deserved salute to the Royal Navy's little ships
24 July 2003 | by (Liverpool England) – See all my reviews

"The men are the heroes. The heroines are the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea." A truthful statement made by that accomplished actor, the late Jack Hawkins, as Ericson a merchant navy captain in peacetime. But in the naval reserve and now appointed captain of His Majesty's Ship, COMPASS ROSE, a flower class corvette. In reality is was christened, H.M.S. COREOPSIS (K32).

The first British maritime casualty in The Battle of the Atlantic was the Donaldson Line's ATHENIA, torpedoed and sunk by U-Boat-30, Lt Fritz Lemp commanding, less than 8 or 9 hours after Britain declared war, September 3rd 1939.

The Atlantic battle was the longest fought campaign of the war. Only ending when what was left of the German U-Boat fleet surfaced, wherever they may be, to rendezvous and surrender to ships of the allied navies in May 1945. The story of this lone corvette then, displayed just a small but nevertheless vital role of the Royal Navy's "little ships", as they became known, that took part in this vast oceanic conflict.

Ericson develops a faintly worried facial expression camouflaged with a slight smile when he meets up with two of his recently commissioned "green" young officers, who have just reported aboard ship after only five weeks of training, as she lays at the fitting out dock and nearing completion for sea trials. Lockhart tells Ericson that his only nautical experience was sailing a 5 ton yawl on the Solent. Ferraby, the other officer had done one channel crossing to France on a ferry in peace time. Ericson's first lieutenant, known in naval terms as number one, is Bennett. An overbearing officer; the gold lace on his sleeve having gone to his head. To him it was authority, and let no one ever forget it! Bennett soon lands ashore in the naval hospital with a suspected ulcer.

The first scenes of war at sea; and close up, are sobering and ugly. Shots of rescued survivors from sunken merchantmen. Cold wet and gasping for breath and trying to hang on to life. Coughing and throwing up oil, their lungs full of the smelly black slime. Some of the poor devils make it. Others do not and are committed back to the deep cruel sea....And into the God's care.

The hunt for U-Boats is well filmed. One boat? Maybe a wolf pack lurking out there with deadly intent. COMPASS ROSE manoeuvring, its asdic/sonar equipment working like a bloodhound's nose, sniffing for a kill.

Ericson's stiff upper lip falters when he orders depth charges to be dropped among struggling survivors in the water when he suspects a U-boat lurking under them. Later, alcohol does not really help to salve his conscience. Another poignant scene is of Petty Officer Tallow on shore leave and heading for his sister's house accompanied by Petty Officer Watts. And only to find his sister's house demolished, and his sister killed during a night-time Luftwaffe blitz on Liverpool.

It is the turn of COMPASS ROSE to become a victim of a U-Boat's torpedo. It strikes at night with surprising suddenness. Ten men out of the ship's company survive the ordeal on carley floats to be rescued. Ericson is appointed to command a new class of corvette named, SALTASH CASTLE, along with promotion to full commander. The corvette is ordered to escort duty on the arctic run to Murmansk via the North Cape of Norway. Near the end Ericson can claim a second U-Boat sunk.

In the closing scenes of the film with the war over, SALTASH CASTLE slowly slips by a group of surrendered U-Boats moored together, as she arrives at her anchorage. After anchoring, Ericson's call, "Finished with main engine," gives a nice ring to the final scenes in this film. There is an air of relaxation between Ericson and Lockhart as they reminisce on the ship's bridge. They talk of men who never made it through to the end. Morell, Ferraby, Tallow, Watts and the other crew members. A tiny fraction of the high cost who now lay in a vast watery grave along with other brave men and many fine ships.

Documentary footage adds to the authentic feel of this film, coupled some of the time with a mournful musical soundtrack, which seems to add a depressing atmosphere to an often dangerous and angry looking ocean. Sailing in a Atlantic gale under wartime conditions, could sink to the level of waterlogged purgatory.

Eric Ambler did a admirable job of adapting Nicholas Monsarrat's fine novel for the screen. Director Charles Friend turned Ambler's work into the best film ever made about the Royal Navy in the Second World War.

I sailed with a Merchant Navy skipper who commanded a Flower class corvette. He said that in stormy conditions they would indulge in some weird antics. "The Flower class corvettes," he said "would have pitched and rolled in a field of wet grass. Let alone a bloody great ocean!"

56 of 61 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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