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Captain Bellew commands a tugboat harbored off a Spanish village. The father of Josita, a village girl, tempts Bellew into a romantic interest in Josita, despite nearly five decades' difference in their ages, as he hopes the aging Bellew will not live long and will leave Josita well off. Meanwhile, Abel Hewson, a handsome English sailor, signs on to Bellew's crew. When Josita and Hewson fall in love, the stage is set for conflict. But greater conflict arises when a sinking freighter carrying explosive cargo has to be salvaged and towed to port. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Surprisingly good farewell to a colorful and sometimes great actor
A tiny handful of people have had the adventurous life Victor McLaglen had. To give you an idea, his rich and rollicking autobiography was published near the *beginning* of his acting career, a career that would later give him a Best Actor Oscar and a Best Supporting Actor nomination almost two decades after *that*. Before becoming an actor, he managed to fight in both the Boer War and World War I, fight (in a different sense) freshly-crowned heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, play vaudeville, mine for gold, and serve as Provost Marshall for the city of Baghdad! McLaglen was neither a grandly handsome actor nor a great one (though he gave a few great performances, most notably the one that won him the Oscar, in John Ford's brilliant 1935 "The Informer.") He was big and broad, both in stature and in performance, and his most famous roles ("The Informer," "The Quiet Man," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," etc.) made use of both aspects. He lived to be 72, and every one of those years showed up on his face. His later films rarely gave him much of interest to do, and he seemed tired and passive in some of them.
Therefore, his very last film, "Sea Fury," came as a surprise to me. In this British film, made only a few months before McLaglen's death, he is actually at one corner of a love triangle and displays much of the roughneck quality that infused so much of his early work. In this British film, McLaglen's first in his native country since silent days, he plays a tugboat captain who is tempted by a young woman's mercenary father into falling in love with her. The father knows that such a husband for his daughter would not live long and would make her wealthy at his death (at least by the standards of her Spanish village). The captain knows he should not be so foolish as to hope for the love of a girl fifty years his junior, yet hearts and minds do not always think alike, and the captain's heart overrules his wisdom.
Lucianna Paluzzi, who would later make a bit of a splash as the bad Bond girl opposite Sean Connery in "Thunderball," is here a deliciously innocent yet wildly tempting young girl, and most of her scenes leave no doubt that any man with a heterosexual heartbeat would have trouble not falling for her. One who does is a sailor played by Stanley Baker, one of Britain's better leading men of the period, albeit one who did not rise to quite the worldwide fame of his contemporaries like Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Baker's sailor signs on as a seaman aboard McLaglen's tug, and trouble of course arises when he and the girl fall hard for each other.
What seems bound to become a rather typical love-triangle movie turns out not to be, due in part to the very age difference between McLaglen and the girl, something that (unlike in many Hollywood films) is not ignored but actually confronted in the drama. Also, the film is a wonderful slice of a life that is at once quite real and quite unfamiliar to most of us. The Spanish village where the sailors live while waiting on news of wrecks they can sail out to salvage, and life aboard the tugboats, are both given a most believable and interesting depiction. They're not mere locations but living, breathing unique situations that seem rooted in reality.
The final portion of the film is a terrifically exciting sequence aboard a wrecked ship in which the actors seem to be in almost as much danger as the characters they portray. The whole movie is much more exciting and affecting than I ever expected it to be, and it is a touching and quite fitting farewell to Victor McLaglen, one of the most remarkable figures in film history.
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