59 user 26 critic

The Cruel Sea (1953)

Approved | | Drama , War | 19 August 1953 (USA)
2:16 | Trailer

On Disc

at Amazon

The World War II adventures of a British convoy escort ship and its officers.


Charles Frend


Nicholas Monsarrat (by), Eric Ambler (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »



Learn more

More Like This 

Action | Drama | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

The World War II story of the British Navy's effort to defeat Nazi Germany's most powerful warship.

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Stars: Kenneth More, Dana Wynter, Carl Möhner
Adventure | Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

During WW2 in North Africa, a medical field unit must cross the desert in their ambulance in order to reach the British lines in Alexandria.

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: John Mills, Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms
Biography | Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Biopic of RAF Group Captain Douglas Bader who, after having lost both legs, flew a British fighter plane during WW2.

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Stars: Kenneth More, Muriel Pavlow, Lyndon Brook
Drama | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Allied prisoners of various nationalities pool their resources to plan numerous escapes from an "escape-proof" German POW camp housed in a Medieval castle.

Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: John Mills, Eric Portman, Christopher Rhodes
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

The attack by British submarines on the German battleship "Tirpitz" in a Norwegian fjord during the Second World War.

Director: Ralph Thomas
Stars: John Mills, John Gregson, Donald Sinden
Drama | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

The story of how the British attacked German dams in WWII by using an ingenious technique to drop bombs where they would be most effective.

Director: Michael Anderson
Stars: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans
633 Squadron (1964)
War | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

An RAF squadron is assigned to knock out a German rocket fuel factory in Norway. The factory supplies fuel for the Nazi effort to launch rockets on England during D-Day.

Director: Walter Grauman
Stars: Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris, Maria Perschy
Drama | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

True story of three British POWs and their attempt to escape from Nazi Germany.

Directors: Jack Lee, Ian Dalrymple
Stars: Leo Genn, David Tomlinson, Anthony Steel
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

This "story of a ship," the British destroyer HMS Torrin, is told in flash backs by survivors as they cling to a life raft.

Directors: Noël Coward, David Lean
Stars: Noël Coward, John Mills, Bernard Miles
Desert Patrol (1958)
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

Sent to destroy a Nazi petrol dump in the North African desert, a British commando team unexpectedly discovers a large Nazi tank unit and must inform the HQ in time.

Director: Guy Green
Stars: Richard Attenborough, John Gregson, Michael Craig
Odette (1950)
Drama | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

This is the story of a brave woman who volunteered to join SOE (Special Operations Executive) during WWII. She was flown into occupied France where she fought with the French resistance. ... See full summary »

Director: Herbert Wilcox
Stars: Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard, Marius Goring
Action | Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

All leave is canceled so that a British submarine can be sent after a new German warship. They chase it so far that they have no fuel to get home.

Director: Anthony Asquith
Stars: John Mills, Louis Bradfield, Ronald Millar


Cast overview, first billed only:
Jack Hawkins ... Ericson
Donald Sinden ... Lockhart
John Stratton ... Ferraby
Denholm Elliott ... Morell
John Warner John Warner ... Baker
Stanley Baker ... Bennett
Bruce Seton ... Tallow
Liam Redmond ... Watts
Virginia McKenna ... Julie Hallam
Moira Lister ... Elaine Morell
June Thorburn ... Doris Ferraby
Megs Jenkins ... Tallow's Sister
Meredith Edwards ... Yeoman Wells
Glyn Houston ... Phillips
Alec McCowen ... Tonbridge


At the start of World War II, Cmdr. Ericson is assigned to convoy escort HMS Compass Rose with inexperienced officers and men just out of training. The winter seas make life miserable enough, but the men must also harden themselves to rescuing survivors of U-Boat attacks, while seldom able to strike back. Traumatic events afloat and ashore create a warm bond between the skipper and his first officer. Atmospheric sea footage. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Monsarrat's brilliant best seller comes surging to life


Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

19 August 1953 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Det grymma havet See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)| Mono (Gaumont Kalee)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The most successful film at the UK box office in 1953, as well as a surprise hit in the US. See more »


Some depth charges are clearly labelled "INERT FILLED." See more »


Lt. Cmdr. Ericson: [as Narrator] For us the Battle of the Atlantic was becoming a private war. If you were in it, you knew all about it. You knew how to keep watch on filthy nights, and how to go without sleep, how to bury the dead, and how to die without wasting anyone's time.
See more »


Referenced in Talking Pictures: Barry Norman (2017) See more »


The Chestnut Tree
or "The Spreading Chestnut Tree" (uncredited)
Author unknown, perhaps traditional song
Sung by the sailors in the raft to keep wake
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

A well deserved salute to the Royal Navy's little ships
24 July 2003 | by smiley-39See all my reviews

"The men are the heroes. The heroines are the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea." A truthful statement made by that accomplished actor, the late Jack Hawkins, as Ericson a merchant navy captain in peacetime. But in the naval reserve and now appointed captain of His Majesty's Ship, COMPASS ROSE, a flower class corvette. In reality is was christened, H.M.S. COREOPSIS (K32).

The first British maritime casualty in The Battle of the Atlantic was the Donaldson Line's ATHENIA, torpedoed and sunk by U-Boat-30, Lt Fritz Lemp commanding, less than 8 or 9 hours after Britain declared war, September 3rd 1939.

The Atlantic battle was the longest fought campaign of the war. Only ending when what was left of the German U-Boat fleet surfaced, wherever they may be, to rendezvous and surrender to ships of the allied navies in May 1945. The story of this lone corvette then, displayed just a small but nevertheless vital role of the Royal Navy's "little ships", as they became known, that took part in this vast oceanic conflict.

Ericson develops a faintly worried facial expression camouflaged with a slight smile when he meets up with two of his recently commissioned "green" young officers, who have just reported aboard ship after only five weeks of training, as she lays at the fitting out dock and nearing completion for sea trials. Lockhart tells Ericson that his only nautical experience was sailing a 5 ton yawl on the Solent. Ferraby, the other officer had done one channel crossing to France on a ferry in peace time. Ericson's first lieutenant, known in naval terms as number one, is Bennett. An overbearing officer; the gold lace on his sleeve having gone to his head. To him it was authority, and let no one ever forget it! Bennett soon lands ashore in the naval hospital with a suspected ulcer.

The first scenes of war at sea; and close up, are sobering and ugly. Shots of rescued survivors from sunken merchantmen. Cold wet and gasping for breath and trying to hang on to life. Coughing and throwing up oil, their lungs full of the smelly black slime. Some of the poor devils make it. Others do not and are committed back to the deep cruel sea....And into the God's care.

The hunt for U-Boats is well filmed. One boat? Maybe a wolf pack lurking out there with deadly intent. COMPASS ROSE manoeuvring, its asdic/sonar equipment working like a bloodhound's nose, sniffing for a kill.

Ericson's stiff upper lip falters when he orders depth charges to be dropped among struggling survivors in the water when he suspects a U-boat lurking under them. Later, alcohol does not really help to salve his conscience. Another poignant scene is of Petty Officer Tallow on shore leave and heading for his sister's house accompanied by Petty Officer Watts. And only to find his sister's house demolished, and his sister killed during a night-time Luftwaffe blitz on Liverpool.

It is the turn of COMPASS ROSE to become a victim of a U-Boat's torpedo. It strikes at night with surprising suddenness. Ten men out of the ship's company survive the ordeal on carley floats to be rescued. Ericson is appointed to command a new class of corvette named, SALTASH CASTLE, along with promotion to full commander. The corvette is ordered to escort duty on the arctic run to Murmansk via the North Cape of Norway. Near the end Ericson can claim a second U-Boat sunk.

In the closing scenes of the film with the war over, SALTASH CASTLE slowly slips by a group of surrendered U-Boats moored together, as she arrives at her anchorage. After anchoring, Ericson's call, "Finished with main engine," gives a nice ring to the final scenes in this film. There is an air of relaxation between Ericson and Lockhart as they reminisce on the ship's bridge. They talk of men who never made it through to the end. Morell, Ferraby, Tallow, Watts and the other crew members. A tiny fraction of the high cost who now lay in a vast watery grave along with other brave men and many fine ships.

Documentary footage adds to the authentic feel of this film, coupled some of the time with a mournful musical soundtrack, which seems to add a depressing atmosphere to an often dangerous and angry looking ocean. Sailing in a Atlantic gale under wartime conditions, could sink to the level of waterlogged purgatory.

Eric Ambler did a admirable job of adapting Nicholas Monsarrat's fine novel for the screen. Director Charles Friend turned Ambler's work into the best film ever made about the Royal Navy in the Second World War.

I sailed with a Merchant Navy skipper who commanded a Flower class corvette. He said that in stormy conditions they would indulge in some weird antics. "The Flower class corvettes," he said "would have pitched and rolled in a field of wet grass. Let alone a bloody great ocean!"

68 of 73 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 59 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed