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I first read this book when I was 14 (and had my father take it back
from me when I had to ask "what's 'urinate' mean, dad?"). Monserrat is
a master at the depiction of men at war - from his extraordinary
technical knowledge to his ability to convey the fatigue, the cross
feelings living in close quarters, the bitterness, the moments of
triumph or relief.
This film does Monserrat justice. This movie is the opposite of the "boys' own adventure" sorts of movies. There are no striking heroics - just the very real feeling of people performing onerous often dangerous duties as well as they're able - which is heroic itself. The movie does not skimp on the danger either - the shocking losses of ships in convoys that the corvette "protects", the extreme difficulty of finding and sinking U-boats, almost gives one the feeling, "what's the point of convoys?" (Imagine all surgeons operating with an average 3% survival rate - well, 3% recovery is better than none - but imagine the wear on the surgeons).
The film is gritty, and just has the feel of the 1940s in its bones. The sounds, the movement, the look of cities and harbors, the clothes - it's as if one's uncles' tales have all come to life.
Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden are wonderful - almost always (and necessarily in wartime) stiff upper lip. The movie's moral dramas (bearing upon decisions the captain must make) are wonderfully conceived and executed.
This is truly a superb movie - a great credit to all who worked on it - a memorial to many. It's a completely different - and superior - genre to such movies as Pearl Harbor. I even prefer it to its natural rival, In Which We Serve - good though the latter is.
Post British World War II movies helped sustain the ailing British Film
industry in the 1950's. There were some truly awful movies made -
probably so those who were really there could turn to their girls and
say - "you know it wasn't really like that".
The Cruel Sea is an exceptional exception. Firstly it is based on a superb book, secondly it is well cast with Jack Hawkins at the height of his powers playing Captain Ericsson and thirdly it is well abridged. Getting a 500 page novel into 121 mins means that there will be cuts - but they are well done and the narrative thread of the book is not lost. There is also very little "messing with the story" so prevalent in Hollywood.
The Royal Navy obviously thought the movie worth supporting and helped find a real Flower Class corvette. Of all 135 built - 22 had been sunk by the enemy, 13 lost in bad weather and the rest paid off after the war. "Compass Rose" sails across the screen - firing her weapons and throwing her depth charges (you want to see what REAL depth charges are like when they go off - watch this) in beautifully photographed black and white action sequences.
Suspend your historical accuracy regarding true ship detail however - throughout the movie the Flower is in her 1945 paid off configuration with a lantern style radar that wasn't introduced till half way through the war and the continuity switches from moderate weather to flat calm at the flick of a scene as needed when the ship is making turns. Still you want to see heavy weather - there is some real rough stuff with the corvette punching into it and some stock wartime footage very carefully grafted in to give the necessary verisimilitude.
But the real narrative is how the specks of humanity are treated by the war and the cruel sea and it is amply conveyed in the morning after a torpedo'ing. Count how many are INCREDIBLY lucky to be found alive in rafts and remember how many were on the ship that was sunk in the night. It's a grim ratio and a vivid portrayal of the real cost of the Battle of the Atlantic.
Young and upcoming Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliot and Virginia McKenna support this superb movie - it made Donald Sinden.
I hope there is a DVD coming because the photography is clearly good enough to be shown at a higher resolution but this should not stop you watching this now.
"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!"
If my ship were going down, and I had that one last moment to grab a
treasured something, my copy of the book, THE CRUEL SEA by Nicholas
Monsarrat might well be what I choose. (That is supposing I already had my
life vest on.) This book has affected my life deeply since I first came
across it as a teenager. It is why I joined the US Navy. (where I
ironically ended up in the submarine service.) It formed an invaluable
in teaching me what `duty' meant, and `honor.' It is therefore a bit more
difficult for me to judge this motion picture than most. Were it horrid, I
should still love it, I suppose. Fortunately it is not horrid. `The Cruel
Sea is in fact first rate.
It is difficult to translate any full-length novel to the screen. There are too many `moments in time' to get them all in. So the adaptation of a novel by a screenwriter becomes a process of selection. Eric Ambler did his usual excellent job in writing this script, and if he left out some of the better bits, he also got the best bits in. Charles Frend directs it well within the style of the early 1950's. The special effects are above average for the time and not unacceptable by today's standards, although they are not spectacular. The film editing is clean and crisp with little to complain about. The musical score is not intrusive, but not up to the rest of the effort. It would be ten years before the art of Movie Music caught up to the rest, and here the score is no worse any other film of 1953. It is however the acting that gives this movie the push to get it far above the rest.
Jack Hawkins is marvelous in his understated competence as Captain Ericson, and the actors who play his officers (including a very young and very British Denholm Elliot) all turn in workman-like performances. It is however the overall excellence of the entire cast that is impressive. One of the major strengths of British films from the end of the Second World War through the 1970's was the incredibly fine ensemble casting that provided first-rate acting even in the smallest parts. Walter Fitzgerald in his 30 second role as the air raid warden shows true compassion when he says, `Yes, Mister Tallow, that was your house, wasn't it?'
All of the vivid, bloody color that made `Platoon' and `Saving Private Ryan' the two best combat films ever made are absent here. This was a different type of warfare, the blood, all of the color washed away by the cruel sea. The Battle of the North Atlantic was a very British battle. A five and a half year long stoic battle of endurance, of perseverance, of honor and duty. This is the side of the Second Word War that most lived, but few have ever been able to put into words. `The Cruel Sea' is much more than just a history lesson though. It is a very good movie, and it is a beautiful example of what British film could be in 1953. I highly recommend it.
My father served in the Royal Navy for 42 years. He joined in 1914 and retired in 1956 and was in active service throughout both World Wars. He told me that the film 'The Cruel Sea' was the most realistic account of how it was during those terrible times.
Archetypal British WW2 fare which is very clearly a cut above the rest. Jack
Hawkins steers HMS Compass Rose, a small escort ship, through the perils of
convoy duty and the ever present risk of U-boats.
Hawkins excels as the exhausted Captain in this no frills account of men battling against a constant and ruthless enemy - the sea. A melancholic soundtrack and the distinct lack of jingoism create a forlorn atmosphere as the ship's company endures periods of grinding boredom interrupted only by the sudden terror of U-boat attacks. In the tensest of scenes, during a rare heady pursuit, the radar gives Hawkins his firmest ever indication of an enemy submarine. "There are men in the water just there" he murmurs, realising that as Captain he is alone in making an agonising decision - whether to drop depth charges and risk killing a group of British survivors floating ahead of him. The attack is pressed home, killing the defenceless men but failing to hit the U-boat, and leads to a moving scene where Hawkins' resolute professionalism crumbles in a brief but heartfelt show of drunken emotion.
The trips to sea are punctuated by tableaux scenes on shore, where the tribulations of officers and crew are no less fraught with threats and worry. In a country under siege there can be no escape from air-raids or even an adulterous wife. "It's no-ones fault" says Hawkins "It's the war, the whole bloody war." A strong supporting cast, includes 'youngsters' Denholm Elliot, Donald Sinden and Stanley Baker.
This is a film that succeeds in telling how dangerously close to the edge the British came during the Battle of the Atlantic and of the enormous impact it had on ordinary individuals. The closing scene leaves the audience with a real sense of how, after five long years of war, a nation was left exhausted and emotionally drained.
As a study of men thrown into unaccustomed roles, in a time of severe
stress, The Cruel Sea has few peers. You live the lives with these men,
share their emotions, their fears, even their losses. The time of absolute
despair still gives glimpses of the inner strength some men possess, and
others lack, unwilling to be brave enough to face a future, in which they
longer see a role for themselves.
This is a movie worthy of many screenings, and enjoyed for what it is, a
movie that will challenge the viewer to not judge the characters, but to
accept the times, circumstances, and locations were all
The Cruel Sea is one of my favourite films
Fine English war movie of life aboard a convoy escort ship during WWII. It's original B&W format only adds to the overall feel of the movie. Great no-nonsense performances from the cast. The movie is notable in that it is almost free of propaganda and instead concentrates on showing the crews life on board in a realistic way.Jack Hawkins turns in a fine performance.
Tony Cox's review is one of the best I have ever read on Imdb and says it
all with heartfelt passion, accurately describing the drama and characters
motivations in this realistic film of anti U-boat sea warfare throughout
WWII.I won't try to emulate his brilliant narrative but just add a few
thoughts of my own.Jack Hawkins is always very watchable in any of his films
as an actor and seems to inhabit the part of Ericsson, the skipper of
"Compass Rose" and "Saltash Castle".He vividly portrays the professional and
emotional sides of his character, especially when he utters "...its the war,
the bloody war" with tear stained eyes.
One has to disabuse your mind of later Donald Sinden parts and his rather stagey voice and look dispassionatly at his early carrer as he portrays the new No.1 with an interest in learning first aid which inevitably comes in useful when tending the many merchant seaman they meet who have become torpedo victims.Can someone please tell me what "snorkers" are when applied to sausages, as I have never heard this expression, despite living in London all my life.Evidently Stanley Baker loves them!!
This film effectively portrays the whole gamut of wartime emotions from the long Atlantic naval voyage boredom, short moments of high danger and excitement, guilt about not rescuing your own men who need help, sorrow at losing loved ones, training men on new sciences (asdic) and even romance (Viginia McKenna).At the end one feels as though you had actually been on the corvette yourself with the crew.One of the most realistic WWII dramas I have ever seen (and I have all the classics in my library).I rated it 8/10.
The Cruel Sea is a powerful film that puts you in the battle of the Atlantic. The black and white photography unintentionally conveys the gritty reality of a grim war.(Somebody has said that World War II was a war fought in black and white.) And although the special effects are primitive by today's standards, they are still pretty impressive. The film is an prime example of the post war school of British cinema before it was subsumed by Hollywood. It is a fine film, a fine war film and a fine piece of accurate history.
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