Captain Lovett ordered his first mate Thompson to get rid of his slave-trading crew and get a more respectable bunch for standard shipping, but when he brings his new bride Nancy aboard he ...
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Captain Lovett ordered his first mate Thompson to get rid of his slave-trading crew and get a more respectable bunch for standard shipping, but when he brings his new bride Nancy aboard he finds the same old setup, including slave trade.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
1937's "Slave Ship" looks today as gritty as it must have been shocking to audiences 80 years ago, a script concocted by several writers, including William Faulkner, who admitted that he merely doctored certain scenes that hadn't come off. George S. King's 1933 novel "The Last Slaver" was the basis for a story that remarkably pulled no punches in depicting the odyssey of the newly launched ship Wanderer, tasting blood on the runway as Lon Chaney delivers a stinging unbilled cameo as a doomed laborer unable to escape its path. Three years, and as many names later, the rechristened Albatross is now commanded by Jim Lovett (Warner Baxter) and first mate Jack Thompson (Wallace Beery), with cabin boy Swifty (Mickey Rooney) willing to fight anyone for what he believes in. The slave trade had fallen on hard times by 1860, officially a hanging offense, so after their most recent trip back from Africa, Lovett meets and marries young beauty Nancy Marlowe (Elizabeth Allan), deciding to start over with a new crew and sail to Jamaica in the business of trading goods instead of lives. This does not sit well with the crew, willing to continue their trafficking on human suffering despite the risks involved, forcibly taking control of the ship after a successful mutiny. Unable to prevent the six week voyage back to Africa, Lovett reveals all to his wife, who finds that she still loves him and is willing to forget about his past and work out their future. What they don't know is that Thompson plots to leave his captain behind while the fully loaded ship returns to America, only for the intended victim to turn the tables on his captors, producing a climax as rich in excitement as it is unpredictable. If not for the poorly done romantic scenes involving the little dog it might have been an enduring classic, but it's still a real find, quite unexpected for 1930s Hollywood. MGM's "Souls at Sea" may have earned all the accolades but Darryl Zanuck's pluck produced the better picture, under the assured guidance of director Tay Garnett, both John Ford and Howard Hawks proving unavailable. Beery actually plays the villain, George Sanders in support, Mickey Rooney the true standout.
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