Seven Waves Away
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FAQ for
Abandon Ship (1957) More at IMDbPro »Seven Waves Away (original title)

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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

When the luxury liner SS Crescent Star hits a rogue mine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and sinks in seven minutes, a group of 27 survivors take refuge in a lifeboat made for only nine. The dying captain passes command to executive officer Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power) who finds himself faced with a difficult order to save some of the survivors, other passengers, mostly the sick and elderly, must be jettisoned. Who is to live and who is to be cast in the water with only a life preserver to save them?

No. The movie, originally titled Seven Waves Away, is based on the true story of the William Brown, an American ship carrying 65 passengers, mostly Scot and Irish emigrants, from Liverpool to Philadelphia, that struck an iceberg and sank in 1841. Thirty-one (31) passengers went down with the ship, nine crewmen and one passenger got into a small lifeboat, and nine crewmen and 32 passengers got into a larger one. The larger lifeboat was overcrowded and, in the wake of a storm that threatened to sink the leaky vessel, some of the crewmen, including one Alexander Holmes, began throwing passengers overboard, in all 14 men and two women. The boat was eventually picked up by the ship Crescent and taken to Le Havre (France). Being the only crewman later found in Philadelphia, Holmes was brought to trial, convicted of manslaughter in the case of United States v Holmes (1942), and sentenced to six months in jail and a $20 fine. More information on this incident can be found here.

The lifeboat, designed for nine people, begins with 28 (27 people and a dog), some in the boat itself and some in the water tied to the boat. Captain Paul Darrow (Laurence Naismith) is severely injured and dies of his wounds after handing command to Alec. During the night, one of the passengers in the water, Edward Wilton (Austin Trevor), is found dead and released into the ocean. Deck officer Frank Kelly (Lloyd Nolan), also severely wounded, tosses himself overboard and begs Alec to do what he must so that the strong will survive. As a storm approaches and Alec feels he has no other options, he begins putting passengers in the water. First to go is Ruth Spencer (Clare Austin), feverish and suffering from gangrene in her arm. Able-bodied executive officer Will McKinley (Stephen Boyd) puts himself in the water in order to stay with her. Next to go are George (Ralph Michael) and Jan (Jill Melford) Kilgore, George having swallowed fuel oil and Jan having broken ribs. However, their young son Peter (Meurig Wyn-Jones) is allowed to remain. Seasick playwright Aubrey Clark (Noel Willman) is fifth to go, and he is followed by his dog Bubba, who jumps in the water to be with him. Elderly opera singer Dorothy Knutson (Marie Lohr) and 18-year old Mickey Stokes (Colin Broadley) are next, followed by John Merritt (Gordon Jackson) who has two broken wrists. As Merritt fights to stay aboard the lifeboat, John Hayden (David Langton) falls in the water with no life preserver. When Michael Faroni (Eddie Byrne) attempts to force Alec to go back and pick up the jettisoned passengers, he is shot in the abdomen with a flaregun, but not before he throws a switchblade into Alec's right shoulder. Altogether, 14 go into the water, leaving 14 still on the lifeboat. These 14 include nurse Julie White (Mai Zetterling), communications officer Jimmy 'Sparks' Clary (John Stratton), Edith Middleton (Moira Lister), Major General Barrington (Clive Morton), Solly Daniels (Ferdy Mayne), 'Cookie' Morrow (James Hayter), Willy Hawkins (Victor Maddern), Daniel Cane (Moultrie Kelsall), Sam Holly (Orlando Martins), Aussie 'Digger' Smith (John Gray), Big Joe Wolsek (Danny Green), and Mario Pasquale (Derek Sydney), plus Alec and young Peter Kilgore.

When Alec takes measure of the injured passengers in the lifeboat, Kelly tells him 'I'm seven waves away,' British sailor's slang meaning that he's dying.

In real life (remember, this is based on a true story) the "raft" was actually another lifeboat, smaller than the one Holmes was on, but also overloaded and commanded by the captain of the ship. His boat was rescued the next morning, everyone survived the storm, and no one was tossed over.

How does the movie end?

The remaining 14 passengers in the lifeboat row towards Africa (1,500 miles away) in a violent storm. The next morning, the storm has passed. They awake happy and relieved to be alive, grateful for Alec's leadership. However, the knife wound in Alec's right shoulder has become infected. Still intent to keep his promise of removing dead weight from the ship, he passes command to Sparks and orders them to keep rowing east, as they should make the coast of Africa at some point. He then throws himself overboard. Julie and Sparks swim out to get him and return him to the boat. Suddenly, they hear a horn, and a ship can be seen coming through the distant fog. 'Just a little bit too soon, brave captain,' says Edith, and the passengers begin to realize that they took part in the deaths of other passengers and gather together to pin the blame on Alec, claiming that Alec ordered and forced them at gun point. Only Julie and Edith support Alec's contention that it was the 'right thing' to do. As the lifeboat pulls up to the British Soldier, Alec sees (or thinks he sees) all the jettisoned passengers standing along the railing. Just before the passengers climb aboard the ship, Sparks gives Alec back his ring. In the final scene, Alec climbs aboard, the last to leave the lifeboat, and a voice-over states, 'The story which you have just seen is a true one. In real life, Captain Alexander Holmes was brought to trial on a charge of murder. He was convicted and given the minimum sentence of six months because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the incident.If you had been a member of the jury, how would you have voted...guilty or innocent?'

It's hard to tell. Alec clears his eyes several times, suggesting that he can't believe what he's seeing. Some viewers take comfort in believing that the British Soldier rescued all of those who were jettisoned. Other viewers see them as the ghostly spirits of the people tossed overboard. Still others think it was a hallucination on Alec's part, brought on by his sense of guilt and conscience. In the case of the William Brown, no one was picked up other than those in the two lifeboats.

The basic premise -- that of jettisoning passengers from an overcrowded lifeboat -- is intact, however the circumstances have been altered, which is what makes the movie 'based on' rather than 'the story of'' the William Brown. For example, the ship in the movie is called the SS Crescent Star and is a luxury liner carrying 1,156 passengers, whereas the William Brown carried only 65 passengers. The Crescent Star hits a derelict mine that explodes under the keel, breaking the ship in half and sinking her in seven minutes; the William Brown hit an iceberg and took 1-1/2 hours to sink. The Crescent Star goes down in the warm waters of the south Atlantic; the William Brown went down in the icy waters of the north Atlantic, 250 miles from Newfoundland. Although the main character in the movie, Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power) retains the name of the original seaman, Alexander Holmes, the names and identities of all the other characters have been changed.

Yes, there have been two other movies based on the William Brown incident, Souls at Sea (1937) and The Last Survivors (1975).

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 1 year ago
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