MGM didn't think this one through very well did they?
I'm giving this 6/10 mainly because anything with either Chester Morris or Wallace Beery is usually good viewing and this is no exception, but there are lots of problems with this one.
This is a film about WWI that is actually pro-war and anti-German, something you rarely saw in the 1930's at either end of the decade. At the beginning of the 1930's, before the rise of Hitler, people were still looking back at the pointlessness of WWI and most films presented it as such. At the end of the decade, American films avoided any direct criticism of the Nazis because the studios were afraid of losing German business for their films and also because so many of the studio moguls of the era were Jewish themselves and did not want to call attention to that fact due to anti-Semitic feelings both here and abroad.
What this film is basically doing is getting Americans accustomed to thinking of the Germans as the enemy without actually calling out Hitler's regime as the enemy. The film starts out with two rivals in the shipping business who are not afraid to resort to violence and sabotage (Chester Morris as Rocky Blake and Wallace Beery as John Thorson). The time is supposed to be the beginning of the entry of America into WWI, but our leads are hardly patriotic. Rocky is tricked by Thorson into joining the navy so that Thorson can rid himself of his competition, and Thorson later joins up himself because a German sub sinks his ship and he wants payback. Of course, Thorson finds himself under the command of Rocky, and time has healed no wounds on either side. The whole thing plays out rather formulaicly. If you don't know what I mean watch any film about the navy in which two enemies on land are forced to work together at sea against a common enemy.
The real problem here is the art design and the acting of one player that really gums up the works. First I'll discuss the art design. A common problem in the early talkies was that films set in the past had people wearing the fashions of "present day" - 1930 or so. By 1939 most studios were dressing their actors appropriately for the time period. This film has everyone dressed as though it is 1939, not 1917. Seeing Virgina Grey (as Thorson's daughter Susan) parade around in what appear to be knock-offs of Judy Garland's gingham dress from the Wizard of Oz can only conjure up visions of President Wilson in a zoot suit. This brings me to the second problem - Virginia Grey's acting. She's either talking like a gun moll - which doesn't go with the seafaring town setting - or she's bursting into tears like a twelve year old. She gets quite tiresome before it's all over and thus there's no way I can believe the purported build up of sexual tension between her character and Rocky.
Watch this one for Beery at his bellicose best, for Chester Morris when he was still in the angry phase of his acting career, and for the great naval action scenes. Just remember this probably was not an A-lister for MGM in 1939 and try to overlook the flaws.
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