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As the Second World War breaks out, German freighter captain Karl Ehrlich is about to leave Sydney, Australia with his vessel, the Ergenstrasse. Ehrlich, an anti-Nazi but proud German, hopes to outrun or out-maneuver the British warship pursuing him. Aboard his vessel is Elsa Keller, a woman Ehrlich has been ordered to return to Germany safely along with whatever secrets she carries. When Ehrlich's fiercely Nazi chief officer Kirchner commits an atrocity, the British pursuit becomes deadly. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
1955 marked the last year of John Wayne's streak of being number one at the box office and it was films like The Sea Chase that helped bring about an end to his reign.
I cannot understand for the life of me why John Wayne, as American as they come was cast as a German. Right around the same time there were players like Curt Jurgens or the newly arrived in Hollywood Yul Brynner who would have been far better and believable in the role of freighter captain Karl Ehrlich. Brynner in fact later on did quite well in the film Morituri playing a German freighter captain. James Mason would have done well also. What was the Duke thinking.
Offhand I can only think of three films in which he played a non-American, this one, The Long Voyage Home, and The Conqueror. Of course The Conqueror was one of the biggest flops in film history with Wayne as Genghis Khan. He did all right in The Long Voyage Home, but it's a small part in an ensemble production. John Ford must have been very patient with him getting that proper Swedish accent there. Wayne did not have Robert Mitchum's ear for dialect. In fact Mitchum might have been able to play Karl Ehrlich.
The story starts in Sydney harbor right before the Nazis march into Poland. With war talk in the air, Captain David Farrar visits his old friend Wayne on his tramp steamer and he brings his new fiancé, Lana Turner. Wayne knows her to be an adventuress and probably an agent for the Nazis. He tells her to leave Farrar while the leaving is good, little dreaming he'd be asked by the German consul to transport Turner back to Germany.
Wayne sneaks his ship out of Sydney Harbor and the Royal Navy gives chase. While stopping at an island for supplies, second officer Lyle Bettger, a hardened Nazi, murders the survivors of a fishing vessel who were stranded there. Of course the atrocity redounds to Wayne's ship and gives the Royal Navy real reason to pursue.
David Farrar is a fine British sea captain in the best stiff upper lip tradition. Of course Lyle Bettger adds to that wonderful group psychotics he developed a patent on during the fifties. Lana Turner is well cast in her role as femme fatale.
A whole lot of young players are in the crew of Wayne's ship like James Arness, Tab Hunter, Richard Davalos, and Alan Hale, Jr. When the ship stops and makes some repairs and provisions, the crew is put to work cutting down trees. Lots of topless beefcake for the audience there.
In addition Richard Davalos has a very touching death scene, probably the acting highlight of the film.
It's not the worst film John Wayne ever did, but fans of the eternal Duke will find his playing a German incongruous to say the least.
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