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Once seen, never forgotten. Very few films have ever moved into
Hitchcock's territory and beaten him, but Seven Waves Away / Abandon
Ship is one: ultimately it's a much superior film to Hitchcock's
similar Lifeboat. Seven Waves Away was made with impressive conviction
and passion by writer-director Richard Sale, who was very active in the
1950s but didn't get another opportunity to direct a feature after this
one, despite living 36 more years (what's up with that?). Working with
production designer Wilfred Shingleton and art director Raymond Simm
and filming almost entirely in a large tank (except perhaps for a few
long shots), Sale created an unforgettably immediate atmosphere for a
completely harrowing and uncompromising tale of survival at sea under
the worst imaginable physical and ethical circumstances.
The cast performed admirably under very trying circumstances (imagine being wet all day, every day); in fact, the miseries of the filming process influenced the acting in a quasi-documentary manner that benefits the picture enormously. Even seen on television, Seven Waves Away is an intensely experiential movie; I can only imagine what it felt like on the large screen.
This was practically Tyrone Power's last hurrah; in his early forties when the movie was filmed, he died of a heart attack on a project shortly thereafter (as his actor-father Tyrone Power Sr. had before him). Power acts with tremendous force and tension as the "captain" here; the dramatic arc of the story is contained entirely within his decision-making process, and for a first-time viewer his key decision (which I will not reveal) will always register as startling because it runs so counter-intuitively to our received sense of ethics. But that is part of what gives Seven Waves Away its wallop.
This was my first viewing of the film and in my humble opinion Ty Power
was terrific as a dramatic actor. It really opened my eyes to his
capabilities. He had what it takes to project the reality across to us,
the viewers. Although I wouldn't want to be in his situation, of
deciding on the fate of survivors in a lifeboat, still I felt his
decisions were the best that could be done in such an extreme and dire
situation. I'm sure no one would want to be in his shoes at that time.
Each actor contributed in their minor roles, - nice to see Stephen Boyd in an earlier role - Lloyd Nolan seen rather briefly, and Mai Zetterling as the nurse who was supportive throughout.
Who can say what each and everyone would be willing to decide on if confronted with the inevitable decision of life and death, or basic survival as in this case. It's certainly something to think about in quiet moments.
I found this film riveting throughout as the dialogue progressed and decisions were made, rightly or wrongly, on people's lives.
It's a remarkably realistic revelation of human nature at its best and worse. A "must see" for those interested in drama, and particularly in Ty Power's development as a serious performer. Well recommended.
From the opening scenes, director Richard Sale makes you aware that
this is not going to be a "pretty" film. With the small shot of a
simple sea mine floating in the water transforming into a classic 1950s
explosion with horrific screams of passengers, Sale again reminds you
that this is not going to be a typical Hollywood disaster film. As a
reviewer, I must remind those reading that this is not a pretty picture
do not expect your typical film where the heroine always makes good
decisions and those that are made do not impact the lives of others.
"Seven Waves Away" was a flawless film. It is one of those rare,
extremely rare gems that has gone out of print, probably forgotten by
most, but when found will provide the most gut-wrenching 97 minutes of
cinematic viewing. The plot is simple a luxury liner is destroyed by
a random mine, those surviving are cramped into a lifeboat only
equipped to handle 12, 14 at the most, but the dilemma, there are 27
surviving passengers. Weight, rations, sanity, and control are all
factors that our leader, Tyrone Powers, must struggle with to save as
many lives as possible. With no land for the next 1200 miles, Powers
must remain in control, even with death knocking at every door.
"Seven Waves Away" now ranks among one of my favorite films of all times. Why? Director Richard Sale does a phenomenal job directing a strong cast in such a small space. He creates a sense of claustrophobia that is unprecedented in the film industry. This film is the chapter missing from the over-budgeted disaster film "Titanic", which happily everyone shows up safe near the end. This is the human element of disaster, the choices that are made, and the difficulty of survival. This couldn't have happened without those playing their respective roles. Tyrone Powers was more than impressive as the designated master-in-command of this little boat full of scared people. When we first met him, as he assisted in others floating away from the wreckage, we can see that he is going to be a force in this film, and it isn't until he is pushed that we see the full potential of his character. He pushed himself away from any swashbuckling stereotypes that he was better known for, allowed water to be pushed into his face, and gave us a rugged performance that hasn't been seen for a very long time. It was due to Powers' portrayal that the others fell into their own characters as well. Others have argued that each character seemed cliché and at times racist, but to me, they all worked and fell into their roles respectively. The only one I had trouble believing was Mai Zetterling's portrayal of Powers' love interest and nurse. She was cardboard with lines, but worked with the others around her. She was tolerable because the actual story was powerfully near to perfection.
With the characters in place, a strong lead that obviously could control the darkening waters, all we needed to ensure was that there was a strong enough story to accompany these deserved moments. Thankfully, there was. "Seven Waves Away" was one of the tightest scripts that I have witnessed in a very long time. The camera shots were tight, the special effects were 50s style, but perfection in every direction, and the bleak tones were what kept me on the edge of my seat each minute of this film. There is something about a film, especially one made in the 50s that shows unfortunate people just floating out to their death. There is also something about the power of a film that isn't afraid to be honest to itself. "Seven Waves Away" was honest; the horrid nature of Powers saying "women and children don't mean anything anymore" had my heart racing. He was powerful, yet torn all at the same time. He carried a burden none of us would probably be willing to do, and oddly, he was hurt for it. The ending of this film is really what pulled it together for me. The excitement of the crew turned to a wicked shade of turnip at the first signs of possible safety. The honesty of this film is what struck the chord with me. It was powerful and real all at the same time. There wasn't time for cheap CGI or pathetic special effects, this was a human driven film, and it worked because they were all characters we either believed in or have once known. Which would you have been if you were in this boat one of the strong or one of the weak? This is a conversation that I could have with anyone after viewing this film, and it is conversation that launches this film into my immediate favorites.
Overall, I don't think my words gave this film credit at all. It was, again, one of those rare films that should never go out of print, but remain a staple in our cinematic community. Tyrone Powers is superb, and Richard Sale gives us a story nearly worthy enough of Hitchcock. I still get goose bumps as I think about Powers making the final decision on those that are considered "dead weight". This film carried a heavy theme and wasn't afraid to show it to the world. It is a real film about honest events and the truth behind humanity, it speaks further truth now, and would make for a great re-interpretation if not Hollywood-ized too much. I cannot suggest this film enough. If ever you find yourself with a bit more money in the wallet, this film is the perfect investment for your collection. A beauty from beginning to end.
Grade: ***** out of *****
In 1946 Tyrone Power managed to start convincing his friend and
producer, Darryl Zanuck, to occasionally let him flex his muscles as a
straight, serious actor. Zanuck reluctantly agreed, so that Power did
THE RAZOR'S EDGE and (more important) NIGHTMARE ALLEY. In the former he
struggled to show a man who sought and found spiritual piece in the
years following World War I, while his friends went mad in the
materialistic hopelessness of Europe and America. In the latter he
showed he could play a really nasty, opportunistic heel. But neither
film was a blockbuster for Power (THE RAZOR'S EDGE did help push the
career of his co-star Clifton Webb). NIGHTMARE ALLEY was a critical
success, but a flop at the box office. Zanuck returned Power to his old
heroic films, aged a little because he was growing older. As a partial
sop his characters had less pleasant sides - his character in PRINCE OF
FOXES is a willing tool of Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles) for the first
half of the movie. But Power remained the good guy hero.
In the 1950s (after his contract with Fox was completed) Power made more varied films, that showcased the good actor he had become. In particular his tragic biography THE EDDIE DUCHIN STORY, his interesting western RAWHIDE, his shifty defendant in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, his physically damaged (and emotionally wounded) hero in THE SUN ALSO RISES, and this film, ABANDON SHIP/SEVEN WAVES AWAY. The story is reset in modern times. It is the story of the sinking, in 1841, of the William Brown - the same shipwreck that is the subject of Henry Hathaway's movie SOULS AT SEA (1937) that starred Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Henry Wilcoxen. Basically the situation is this: you are in the sole floating lifeboat from a ship that has sunk. There are fifty people clinging to it or inside it. But the frail boat can only be assured of floating with twenty or so passengers in it. So, as the surviving officer in the boat you have to decide who shall live and who shall die. Cooper had to make that choice in SOULS AT SEA, and faces trial for murder as a result. Power does the same thing here too - with similar results.
But the handling of the William Brown tragedy in SOULS AT SEA was the conclusion of that film: The situation and it's resolution took all of ten minutes of the total movie. In ABANDON SHIP, Power is in this dreadful moral dilemma for the entire film. The Captain (Lloyd Nolan) dies early on. Power has to pick and choose among all these few survivors as to who should be kept and who is expendable (based on age, physical condition, value to society). He is unable to rely on anyone else - a fact that is brought to his attention not only by the actions of a critical Stephen Boyd at one point, but by the way Mai Zetterling and James Hayter distance themselves from him when the lifeboat is finally picked up. All powerful in his unwanted element while everyone's lives depended on him, he is all alone when the dangers for the survivors pass away.
ABANDON SHIP is a hard film to sit through as it is so bleak - it is the bleakest movie that Powell ever made (even THE EDDIE DUCHIN STORY had an element of hope in it because Eddie's son Peter was there to carry on the family's name and reputation). But it is an example of good acting all around with a thoughtful script. And it demonstrates that Tyrone Power was a mighty dramatic performer when he was given the right material.
Abandon Ship/Seven Waves Away is a very powerful and difficult film to
watch, made a little more palatable by the presence of one of film's
great matinée idols, Tyrone Power. I'm sorry one of the posters didn't
find him sexy. That man oozed sex from every pore of his body - just
ask anyone who came within two feet of him, including his costar in
this film, Mai Zetterling. Their torrid affair is discussed in vivid,
oh so vivid detail in her autobiography - a whole 18-page chapter.
Sex aside, this film comes off as a great deal grittier than Lifeboat. For me, Tallulah Bankhead was so dazzling in Lifeboat, much of the focus was on her, which somehow dissipated a lot of the tragedy. The two films are similar, though, on some plot points. However, due to Bankhead, there was some humor in Lifeboat. Abandon Ship/Seven Waves Away has none.
The film will keep you glued to your seat, but it is not easy to take, as it is unrelenting in its message and harrowing scenes. You will suffer along with each person who is sacrificed so that others may live.
It's great to see Tyrone Power in a meatier role, and I do believe his career would have taken some exciting turns, both on stage and screen, had he lived past the age of 44. His face was a total curse (to him only) and got in the way of serious acting pursuits for years. His performance in Abandon Ship is excellent and stands as one of his best. There are other films where he had a tendency to tighten up, but this wasn't one of them. It's a shame about him - like so many men of that era, he always had a cigarette in his hand; in Power's case, it was suspected he had heart trouble, but he was in denial about it and didn't want it verified. So we're stuck with what work of his we have, and a lot of it is pretty darn good.
** According to Mai Zetterling's book, All Those Tomorrows, the cast sat in a boat floating in a large indoor tank at Shepperton Studios. There were wind and wave machines and a watershoot pouring cold water on the cast. A starting pistol had to be used to start action as there was no way to hear the director. In the end, the whole film was dubbed because no one could hear. Zetterling had a nearly three-year affair with Power, which gets a chapter in her book.
I haven't seen this film in many years, but I have never forgotten it. It proves you can make a harrowing high-seas adventure with life-and-death philosophical overtones on a tiny budget in a tiny set without going overboard (pun intended) like the bloated "Titanic." In some ways, I prefer this gritty, direct film more than Alfred Hitchcock's very similar "Lifeboat." This film has fewer glamorous eccentricities and gets down to the painful, shocking task of sacrificing lives. Tyrone Power might seem miscast as the captain, but this is not a glamor-boy role and as I recall he handles it quite well. If you're in the mood for hard-hitting, serious drama, this is the picture for you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some movies ask questions you'd rather not hear, and come up with answers
you'd rather not believe are true. This is one of them. People put in an
impossible situation, where rising to the best people can be isn't exactly
what you think it should be. And of course, people being plain old selfish
and short sighted. Perhaps the most interesting point in the movie, spoiler
here, is contemplating what they've done--throwing the weak and the sick
overboard to assure that most will survive. After the fact, they look for
someone to blame, happy that they're alive, yet not wanting to take
responsibility for the deeds that were required for them to live.
This is one of those movies that really requires attention--there are some silly stereotypes, like the hard bitten party girl, old before her time with a foppish husband; the stuffy bloated egotistical general, etc. grist from the mill of fifties writers. But Tyrone Power puts in one of his best performances, known more for swashbuckling, he really shows he has some strong acting. He was always a bit underappreciated in his time.
This is a dark movie, best viewed at night, so it will haunt you--not because it's a horror, but because it's true. What people do to survive is always a concept worth exploring, but despite the lack of any gruesome modern effects, or blood or really anything of the sort, this movie is deeply unsettling. When faced with killing the weak, the helpless, the old, the sick, the hurt, in order to live, what would any of us do?
I liked this much in the way of Hitchcock's better known Lifeboat. Great character study of Tyrone Power in one of his last roles. Movie was shot in a large tank it seems as echos are heard. The only problem I have and I don't know if it's a goof or continuity problem is the fate of the first three characters and the dog on the floating wooden raft at the beginning of the movie. After Alec Holmes(Power)leaves them what happens to them? Otherwise a good flick. I like to point out that three Upstairs Downstairs alumni appear in this movie: Gordon Jackson, David Langton & Clive Morton. Power is great in a character twisting role as the first understanding acting captain and then as the more manaical Ahab like character who sacrifices peoples lives.
As gripping and powerful as it is, ABANDON SHIP! is a survival story
that's hard to view from the comfort of an armchair or theater seat.
The viewer can identify so completely with the daunting task facing the
ship's officer (TYRONE POWER) when making life and death decisions with
regard to how many people can use the lifeboat when a sunken ship
leaves them adrift at sea.
True, there are a few stereotypes among the raft's passengers, but the drama becomes real and forceful due to the strong performances from an excellent cast. MAI ZETTERLING is fine as a nurse with a romantic relationship to Executive Officer Power and STEPHEN BOYD and LLOYD NOLAN are fine as other ship officers caught up in unusual circumstances surrounding their survival at sea.
Not for the squeamish, it has echoes of Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT (but without the humor).
Tyrone Power was at a stage in his career when he wanted more serious roles rather than stay forever fixed in the minds of movie-goers as a swashbuckling star. Here he certainly had his chance to prove his acting skills and he does a splendid job in a grim role, one of his last parts before his premature death from a heart attack at age 45.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Seven Waves Away is the story of ship's officer played by Tyrone Power
who to save the people in his charge after a shipwreck has to cast
several of them adrift so the bulk can be saved. The only thing that
100% of those who view this harrowing tale is they pray that such a
responsibility never falls on them.
I'm not sure it was peace or war time that this story is supposed to have taken place. The ship is an ocean liner on a round the world cruise. But what happens is that it strikes a loose mine floating out in the south Atlantic, 1500 miles from the coast of Africa. I can't believe that people would be taking cruises in the middle of a war nor would any pleasure ships be sailing.
As Tyrone Power describes it, the mine didn't just strike the ship in one spot. It went under the ship and bounced along the bottom and when it exploded, it cut the ship right in half. It was down faster than the Lusitania when it was torpedoed. Less than 10 minutes, no lifeboats launched, no distress signal sent.
The boat they're on is the captain's ship to shore craft. It accommodates nine and twenty seven are in Power's charge as the senior ship's officer. Who's to live and who's to die?
Mai Zetterling is on the boat, she's Power's girl friend, a fact noted with some resentment by others, but she's a nurse. Lloyd Nolan is another officer who sacrifices himself after telling Power what his duty is.
Best performance in the film is that of Moira Lister who's a society woman and a swimmer. She's just full of cutting remarks about the 'brave captain'.
The film lists Ted Richmond as producer, but a silent partner in the venture was Tyrone Power. His performance as the ship's officer with a double Job like burden is excellent. He was well past his youthful days as a romantic idol and it's sad to think he would be dead next year because any number of parts would have opened up for him. This one in fact should have netted him an Oscar nomination.
Seven Waves Away is a film not for the faint hearted.
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