Sunday, March 16, 2003


A very early film from the British Hammer Films; despite their later reputation, this one isn't really a horror film as much as a fairly traditional psychological mystery. It's a speculation about a possible solution to the real-life mystery of the ship Marie Celeste (or Mary Celeste, as it was called in the original American title MYSTERY OF THE MARY CELESTE) which was found floating intact but abandoned at sea. Captain Briggs (Arthur Margetson) sets sail with his new wife (Shirley Grey) and a crew rounded up mostly at the last minute. There is trouble even before they leave when they try to shanghai a man to complete the crew. Another captain (Clifford McLaglen) is jealous because Margetson married his former girlfriend; for revenge, he gets a man put on the crew who is supposed to make sure that harm comes to the captain during the voyage. Bela Lugosi is a one-armed old salt who has aged beyond his years due to his brutal shanghaiing by the man who is now the Marie Celeste's first mate (Edmond Willard). Lugosi joins the crew under an alias and appears to be a somewhat eccentric religious man who weeps hysterically when he kills a someone who was about to attack the captain's wife, but actually he is there to get his own revenge. Lugosi is quite good, getting to show a little more acting range than he usually could in his straightforward horror roles. Crew members start winding up dead and a nice TEN LITTLE INDIANS atmosphere is built up, although coherent character and plot development are sacrificed, particularly in the case of the captain and his wife--it seems that the wife will be of some importance in the plot, but aside from being a reason for McLaglen's revenge, she isn't. To be fair, it appears that some footage, including a framing device of a maritime trial, is missing and presumed unrecoverable. It's a low budget film, but the storm effects are well done, and most of the exteriors were shot on a real ship, which gives those scenes some interesting verisimilitude. Gibson Gowland, star of Von Stroheim's great GREED, has a small part as a crew member. Clifford McLaglen is the brother of Victor McLaglen, Oscar winner in 1935 for THE INFORMER. A decent mystery/thriller.

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