Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We who are about to die salute you

Fans of the work of Marlon Brando may enjoy one of his lesser-known movies, Morituri. It's coming up tomorrow at on FXM/FMC.

Marlon Brando stars as Robert Crain, a Swiss man living in British India in 1942, which is of course the middle of World War II. The only thing is, he's not really Swiss; his passport is a fake and he is in fact German, although he's definitely not a Nazi sympathizer or spy, having taken the Swiss passport in order to escape the Nazis. The British know this, and if they wanted it would be perfectly within their rights to have him arrested, and if there weren't a war on, deported. However, because of the war, the British have a better use for him. Crain was an engineer, and Col. Statter (Trevor Howard) informs Crain of a German ship about to leave Tokyo. That ship is going to be loaded with a supply of raw rubber, which the Nazis desperately need. So you'd think that the British want Crain to sabotage the ship so that it blows up or something. Oh no; the British could use that rubber too. And the British know that the Nazis have their ships booby-trapped with explosive charges so that in the case of an Allied attack, they can just scuttle it and make certain the Allies don't get their hands on the cargo. It's up to Crain to defuse the scuttling charges and make certain that the ship gets taken at the point along its journey where the Allies have planned an ambush. To get on that ship, Crain is to impersonate an SS officer.

And so Crain is put aboard the ship in Tokyo, the question of how he got from India to Tokyo not really answered. There, he boards the Ingo, captained by one Captain Müller (Yul Brynner). Müller's last ship command had problems, which makes him less than popular amongst the Nazis and reduced to captaining this decreptit bucket of bolts. That feeling is mutual; although Müller has no shame in being German, he's not particularly happy with what the Nazis have done to his country and worries about his son in the Navy. He also has good reason to think, due to that last command, that the SS agent is there expressly to spy on him. With all that baggage, the ship sets off on its voyage across the Pacific, having to go that way because can't go past the Allied colonies of India and the ones in Africa.

Several things complicate the mission. One is that they repaint the ship as Swedish, thinking some approaching boats might catch them. Much more complicated, however, is that the Ingo is intercepted by a German U-boat along the way. That U-Boat deposits several passengers: a couple of Nazi officers, who can check up on Crain's SS credentials; as well as some prisoners, who are eventually going to be headed for concentration camps. These include a woman named Esther (Janet Margolin), who doesn't trust anybody. The final complication is that the Ingo has to change cource, meaning that they won't wind up where the Allies are going to be waiting to capture the ship. Crain has to come up with some other way to handle his problems....

I've said before that I'm not the biggest fan of war movies, and I'm really not a fan of the work of Marlon Brando. In Morituri, however, he's not too bad, perhaps because he's playing something so far out in left field for him. (Well, I know he was also in The Young Lions.) But for me, Brando here felt a lot different than in many of his other movies that I've seen. Yul Brynner is also quite good. The plot I found a bit problematic, in that it felt like there were a few too many twists, and it ran a bit too long, at just over two hours. Overall, though, it's certainly not a bad movie. It did get a DVD release several years ago, but I'm not certain if it's still in pring.

No comments: