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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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The Cruel SeaIn 1953, Ealing Studios released The Cruel Sea, brilliantly adapted by screenplay writer Eric Ambler and directed by Charles Frend from the 1951 novel of the same name by Nicholas Monserrat.

DVD Times reports - Ealing’s film of Nicholas Monserrat’s bestseller The Cruel Sea was a massive commercial success in 1952/53 and provided a valuable reminder, amidst talk of a new Elizabethan era and nostalgia for the finest hour, of the horror of the war which Britain had so narrowly won. In later years, it became a by-word for the stiff-upper-lip war drama which seemed out of date and the brilliant realism and integrity of the film was forgotten. But looked at today, The Cruel Sea seems like one of Ealing’s most enduring dramatic achievements and an influential film in the genre.
The Cruel Sea - Jack Higgins
Jack Higgins
The Cruel Sea is the story of a ship, a Flower Class corvette convoy vessel called the Compass Rose. It is led by a merchant seaman, Ericson (Hawkins), and his officers Lockhart (Sinden), Morell (Elliott) and Ferraby (Stratton). We follow them through the war as they rescue survivors of U-Boat attacks, wait for battle and suffer terrible losses.

A good measure of the success of the film is due to Jack Hawkins, an actor who never got his due when he was alive and is still all too often forgotten when British films are discussed. The tragedy of his life is perhaps better known than much of his career, the throat cancer with which he was afflicted destroying his renowned voice and forcing him, for the sake of his career, to accept re-voicing by Charles Gray or Robert Rietty.

But I think Hawkins was one of the pivotal planks of British cinema during the 1950s and 1960s, moving effortlessly between realistic war drama, comedy thriller, tragedy and domestic cosiness. He had a glorious knack of suggesting intelligence and thoughtfulness and could either turn this to sympathetic characterisations or ambiguous ones, as in his General Allenby who plays such a vital role in Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The Cruel Sea is one of the highlights of his career, giving a role which he had played countless times before in films such as Angels One Five - but he never played it better or with more principled intellect than he does here. He is an extraordinarily principled actor - he doesn’t go soft on us or try to pretend that men in war are saints, and this is exemplified in the famous scene where he ploughs on through merchant seamen stranded in the ocean in order to depth-charge a U-Boat. This is horrific but we accept this from Hawkins because of his strength of character - and we even sympathise with him because he shows the moral price that such decisions exact on men in command.

Wikipedia closes - After close to three years of service, including one U-Boat almost certainly sunk, the Compass Rose is herself torpedoed and her men forced to abandon ship. Ericson survives this ordeal along with his First Lieutenant, Lockhart (Donald Sinden), although most of the crew do not.

Together with his now-promoted "number one", Ericson takes command of a new ship, HMS Saltash Castle, and they continue the monotonous, but vital duty of convoy escort. Late in the war, they sink one German submarine, the Saltash Castle's only 'kill'. As the war ends, the ship is shown returning to port, guarded by several German submarines after her surrender. With the exhaustion brought on by so many years of almost endless seagoing struggle, Ericson concedes at the film's end that the only victor is the "Cruel Sea".

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