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The Decks Ran Red flaps as the title under which sets sail a tense and
focused movie that takes place aboard a freighter. The Berwind sails into
port in New Zealand because its captain has mysteriously died. Awarded his
first command, James Mason flies in to take over as skipper of the troubled
ship. He finds a slovenly and insubordinate crew, and his officers tell him
that mutiny may be in the wind.
Since some of the hands have jumped ship, Mason has some holes to fill. The only cook available will sign on only if he can bring his wife, Dorothy Dandridge (as a Maori whose command of the English language encompasses even the future-perfect tense). This sultry native, the only woman on board, doesn't cool down the smouldering unrest, but the arsonist is Broderick Crawford, who fuels the fires in order to advance his own half-baked scheme: To murder all the crew but a few henchmen, making it look like desertion and mutiny, then scuttle the ship and sell it and its cargo as salvage for $1-million.
It's basically an old dark house story taken to the high seas, with murders aplenty and the briny deep to swallow up the corpses. And, despite Mason, Crawford and Dandridge, its production values are not those of The Titanic. Still, it sails brisky along (slackening a bit toward the stretched-out ending) under Andrew Stone's competent if lackluster direction.
Stone and his wife Virginia were Hollywood's answer to the mama-papa candy store: He wrote and directed, she produced and edited. Their long career resulted in many forgettable films and some embarrassments as well (Song of Norway, for one). But there were a few modest successes, too: Highway 301, The Night Holds Terror, Blueprint for Murder. The Decks Ran Red can join them as a decidedly not luxurious but still seaworthy vessel.
Whether it actually is or not, this claustrophobic suspense yarn seems like a 'B' picture. Though Mason and Dandridge were in the midst of their best years career-wise, this seems like a step down...like something that one would do if there was no more quality work. The story (supposedly based on fact) concerns a ship Captain's (Mason) attempt to thwart a murder for riches scheme envisioned by Crawford and Whitman. The pair of thugs plan to make the crew seem like they're planning a mutiny so that it will be entered into the Captain's log. Then they will kill the crew, pretend to be the only survivors and bring the ship in for salvage worth over a million dollars. Crawford lumbers through the film with his usual style, but does present a threatening persona. Whitman struts around and poses in the world's clingiest jeans, his hair all '50's Bryll cream. It's hard to believe he was just three years away from a Best Actor nomination. Mason is believable as a Captain, but not as an action hero as he is later forced to become. A dash of feminine sex appeal is supplied by Dandridge who plays the wife of the ship's cook. She feels the need to serve the men on the boat while wearing snug dresses with deep necklines, which causes it's share of problems. Eventually, the opposing sides must play a cat and mouse game while running all around the ship. (And since it is a black and white film, the decks run grey!) The film has going for it some surprisingly stark moments of violence (for that time) and some creative camera-work in the confined bowels of the ship. Drawbacks include the bland settings, the fact that there's too much talk about what's happening in the story rather than letting the audience see it (crewmen keep coming back to the saloon to tell what's happening outside!) and a feverish, unintentionally hilarious performance by Cross as a third party in the scheme. Also, Bard, as Mason's wife, gives a bizarre performance, nervously looking at the floor through most of her brief scenes and swallowed up in an ugly coat. Still, it's a fairly tight little film with some degree of interest. TV fans may recognize old salt Patterson from "Green Acres".
These two merchant sailors -- Broderick Crawford and Stewart Whitman --
get a crazy idea aboard a freighter. They're going to kill every
officer and man aboard, waterlog the ship, radio for help, claim there
was a mutiny and everyone left the ship but them, and claim the ship,
worth a million bucks, for salvage.
Granted, the idea is slightly askew, but these guys are snipes, working down in the engine room and the temperature there runs around 116 degrees and sounds like the deepest pits of hell. That environment will drive anyone nuts. Besides, it's like the old joke. "How's your wife?" "Compared to WHAT?" If you put Crawford and Whitman next to the Manson Family or al Qaeda they look like paragons of rationality. So, okay, let's leave them some leeway, so to speak.
I'll skip the plot, I guess, because it doesn't require much in the way of explanation. The dialog lacks verve and credibility. "Anything can happen!" "Whoever destroyed the radios must have had a PURPOSE." And when the officers find three corpses in the engine room, someone says to Mason, "Do you realize the ENORMITY of this?" The acting doesn't require much comment either. Everybody involved delivers about what you'd expect. Mason is smooth, Crawford plays a junk man, Whitman is a little ratty, and none of the others stand out -- except Dorothy Dandridge. She can't act very well, but -- wow! What a dish. I don't know about "a million bucks" but Dorothy Dandridge could start a genuine mutiny alright.
I vaguely remember seeing this when it was released and, it may be hard for a contemporary viewer to understand but, like "The Sniper," which was released about the same time, it was shocking in its brutality. The theater suddenly went kind of quiet when Crawford deliberately picked off one of the crew members from a few feet away with a high-powered rifle. The sexy Dandridge was memorable too, although I don't recall that she quieted down the audience.
The Perrys, who produced, had a habit of using real locations for their shoots. "Cry Terror," another suspenser with James Mason, made good use of New York locations. And they actually sunk a liner for one of their movies, something like, "The Last Voyage." I'm glad they never made a movie about the end of the world.
The story isn't really a grabber and the acting is no more than routine but this is worth seeing, if only because it gives you a chance to feel what it's really like to be on a ship, not a mockup of the kind that John Wayne sails through with such ease. The ship, by the way, is pretty ship shape and not at all a rust bucket. She's also high in the water because she's carrying no cargo.
Forget the advertising tagline (although Dorothy Dandridge is beautiful to look at)! This is a crisp little thriller, apparently fact-based, about a couple of malcontent seamen (Crawford and Whitman) who try to foment a mutiny against new captain Mason as a cover for a scheme to kill the entire crew and bring in the ship as salvage. Except for a rather abrupt ending, nicely done by the Stones.
First time watching and I was captivated throughout. I'm not sure why attention was given to Dorothy Dandridge as hers seemed like a small part. Very brutal but believable plot given that anything could happen on the open sea. I especially liked the scene of the ship intending to ram the lifeboat. It was a great camera angle and one actor uses sailor jargon like, "she's really got a bone in her teeth". I was also amused by the hip lingo used by the actors. Crawford reminds me of a ratpacker no matter what film he is in. I was wondering if anyone could tell me what ship(s) was used in the film for the interior and exterior shots? It looks like a Liberty Ship I took a cruise on, the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien.
I agree with the previous comments 100%, but I just wanted to add something about the magnificently evil Broderick Crawford and Stuart Whitman (!!). When Stuart gets his hands on Dorothy the second time, the suspense was so strong that I involuntarily started screaming homicidal epithets at the small screen. Be sure to watch this one alone so you can let it all hang out without being embarrassed.
This B-Movie has a Few Things Going. First it is Off Beat and
Surprisingly the Violence is Up Close and Disturbing for a Fifties
Film. The On Location and On Board Filming is Authentic and Adds to the
Realism. Director Stone seems to be Warming Up for His Masterpiece, The
Last Voyage (1960) as it has the Same Setting and Crisp Camera Work and
The A-Listers James Mason and Broderick Crawford, along with Sexpot Dorothy Dandridge (revealing Her charms more than typical for the Era), are OK, but the Rest of the Cast from Stuart Whitman on Down do some Pretty Bad Acting.
This is a Film that is Stark and Quite Different in Tone than Most of the Films from the 1950's and has an Atmosphere of Dread that Works and there are some Scenes at Sea that are Extremely Well Done. Worth a Watch as a Tense Low-Budgeter and to See James Mason doing some Slumming and Swimming. Great Title.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Andrew and Virginia Stone produced this low budget thriller that hung
on an unbelievable premise and an impossible turn of events. No way the
good people in the plot should have survived and some didn't.
James Mason stars as a professional merchant seaman and gets his first command after serving on passenger liners with the captaincy of a tramp freighter. It's a beat up old tub with a surly crew and a sizzling Dorothy Dandridge the wife of cook Joel Fluellen who no way in God's green earth should have been on the ship. Not too many could have controlled their hormones with Dandridge around.
Broderick Crawford and Stuart Whitman don't even try to keep things in check and in addition they've got a truly horrible plot to seize the ship and are the instigators of unrest. Whitman has it bad for Dandridge and he's claiming her as part of the salvage.
As this situation is laid out when you watch I have no doubt that you will think it impossible that anyone could have survived. And the sea would tell no tales.
The Decks Ran Red is just lame and impossible, but Dorothy Dandridge is always worth watching. James Mason didn't think much of this film according to The Films Of James Mason from the Citadel Film Series book on his work. And Broderick Crawford must have really been on a bender to sign for this one.
A new captain takes command of his first ship only to find himself
confronted with numerous problems. First there is hostility from his
Chief Mate, who feels that he has been passed over for command, and
from some of the crew who agree. Then there is the inflammatory
presence of a woman steward, signed on at the last moment to replace a
crew member who jumped ship. Worst of all is a somewhat ludicrous
mutiny plot perpetrated by a couple of the engine room crew to murder
the entire crew and take over the ship.
Although the plot is supposedly based on a true story the tension fails to the level that it might have done, which is probably attributable to the director rather than the cast. However, give the film full marks for it's shipboard atmosphere, which is certainly highly authentic, thanks to the fact that it was filmed aboard a couple of real merchant ships. The scenes on the bridge of Matson Line's old SS Mariposa are played pretty much as they would have been in real life, as are the subsequent scenes shot on board the freighter, which is almost certainly a Liberty Ship, of which many were still around at the time this film was made. Perhaps the only detail of the freighter that doesn't ring true is the fact that she is riding much higher in the water than she normally would have been because, since the ship was being used as a movie prop, she was obviously carrying no cargo or ballast, and very little fuel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is pure dreck. Obviously made to be beyond the shock (or
nausea) level allowed on TV thereby competing to get some viewers into
the movie theaters and make the producers a few bucks. There is no
story, no plot. Just some senseless slaughter that even one of the
characters says is not necessary!
Its too bad that tired lines like "these men are on the verge of mass hysteria" are typical. Dorothy Dandridge gives a poor performance, tarnishing her Oscar-nominee status. And this is definitely one of James Mason's all-time worst films. His performance is wooden and the lines he is given are embarrassing. His character is supposed to be courageous but really only calls for an actor (Mason) to feign desperation. No real acting is required of Mason or anyone else in this.
Former Oscar winner Broderick Crawford's role is as one-dimensional and predictable as any ever written. His character is a cardboard caricature. No wonder this helped nail the lid on the coffin of his career.
A complete waste of your time if you choose to watch. Don't bother.
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