Wednesday, February 02, 2011


During WWI, British Naval officer Michael Rennie, on a five-day leave, meets a young woman (Wendy Hiller) on a train. They hit it off and spend the five days together at a village hotel as man and wife. He proposes marriage, but she tells him that, since they barely know each other and he'll be heading off to sea for an extended time, a marriage would be impractical, so they part. The story picks up in 1940; Rennie is a captain commanding a Navy cruiser which is part of a convoy going after a notoriously deadly German ship called the Essen. Another ship in the convoy, the Amesbury, winds up engaging the enemy; the Essen sinks the Amesbury, and the German ship picks up the only two survivors: a petty officer (Bernard Lee) who has lost a leg and a young signalman (Jeffrey Hunter) who grew up with in Canada with a single mother who trained him from a young age in all things naval. When the ship pulls into an island lagoon for repairs, Hunter arms himself, escapes into the hills of the island, and becomes a sniper, injuring and killing many of the German sailors who are trying to make the repairs. Hunter hopes to keep the ship in the lagoon long enough for another ship from the British convoy to arrive, but the Germans soon catch on and send their own men out to find him.

[Spoilers ahead!] What would be an average wartime thriller is complicated by an interesting plot twist which is telegraphed so subtly, I almost missed it. Hunter is the son of Wendy Hiller, and most likely Rennie is his father. Hunter's sniping trick works and the British capture the entire Essen crew. In the final scene, when both Rennie and Hunter are being rewarded by the Navy for their efforts, the two men meet, though they remain unaware of their actual relationship. In an alternate ending on the DVD, which is apparently truer to the original story by C.S. Forester, Hunter's trick still works, but he dies on the island. Rennie meets Hiller when she arrives to receive her son's posthumous medal and they have a touching reunion. This film feels a bit padded out; it would make a better hour-long TV show. But the acting is good, the sniping sequence is tense and well-played, and best of all, the beautiful Hunter is shirtless (and sweaty in that clean Hollywood way) for much of the last half of the movie. Both endings are interesting and both work well, though to different effects. The meeting with Hiller is underwritten, so I think I prefer the ending in which Hunter survives but Rennie remains in the dark. [DVD]

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