Wednesday, May 04, 2011


An odd little comedy-drama, a GRAND HOTEL-type story set on an ocean liner. The captain of the title (Walter Connolly) is actually a relatively minor character here; he does in fact hate his current job of running a cruise ship which always seems filled with pathetic souls trying to escape the bad circumstances or boredom of their own lives--except for the articulation of this pessimistic philosophy, Connolly is mostly comic relief. Among the passengers: John Gilbert, an alcoholic writer who has given up on Hollywood (think F. Scott Fitzgerald) and is trying to dry out and get a start on a novel; former cop Victor McLaglen who is after fellow passenger Fred Keating who is in possession of some stolen bonds; John Wray, a well-to-do man who is upset with the gossip about his wife (Wynne Gibson) who was formerly known for her loose morals; Akim Tamiroff, a South American revoluntionary; Helen Vinson, a librarian who flirts with both Gilbert and Keating, but who is ultimately revealed to be Keating's partner in crime (though she wants the bonds more than she wants Keating); and Alison Skipworth as a brassy old broad who also happens to be filthy rich. Everyone crosses paths with everyone else, including the comic relief crew members Leon Erroll as the steward who is always pissing off the captain, and Walter Catlett as the bartender, who eventually becomes chummy with Gilbert, who begins drinking again almost as soon as the ship leaves the dock.

Most of the storylines aren't terribly compelling, but the actors all give good performances. Vinson, Skipworth, and Catlett are always fun and don't disappoint here. I'd never heard of Keating before; this was his first film and he only made a handful more, mostly B-pictures. He's fairly handsome and does a nice job here. I've never been a huge McLaglen fan, though he's excellent in John Ford's THE INFORMER, and he's OK in what amounts to the second lead--though he's actually billed above Gilbert (both pictured above). Truly, the reason to watch this film is Gilbert, in what was his final film before succumbing to his real-life alcohol problems and dying of a heart attack only two years later at the age of 38. Gilbert is excellent, underplaying the kind of role that John Barrymore overplayed in GRAND HOTEL; the character knows he's more or less been licked by life, but he accepts his fate quietly and stoically and even with good humor. The only real surprise in terms of plot is the outcome of Tamiroff's story, and once that happens, the other stories take rather predictable turns. Still, this is a must-see for Gilbert fans. [TCM]

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