Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Last Voyage

A full decade before the all-star disaster epics of the 1970s, MGM produced the entertaining The Last Voyage. It's airing tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM on TCM.

The movie starts off in the boiler room of an old luxury liner that's outlived its usefulnes and is going to be retired soon. Sooner than everybody expects, in fact, but we'll get to that in a bit. Down in the boiler room, the crew is having trouble with a fire that's broken out in the engine room. The captain (George Sanders) doesn't want to bother the passenges, for obvious reasons: why panic them until you absolutely need to get them off the ship? Besides, he thinks the fire can be put out. Still, some of the passengers have noticed that there seems to be something up. There's a bigger problem, though, which is that the fire has melted some of the valves, such that too much fuel is flowing into the engines, and the pressure is rising. If they're not careful, there's going to be an explosion!

Well, this is a Hollywood movie, so you know that despite their best efforts, that explosion is going to happen, and it's going to have catastrophic consequences. It cripples the ship, but more importantly, it rips a giant hole through several decks, affecting some of the cabins. Specifically, that's the cabin of the Henderson family. Dad (Robert Stack) was in a different part of the ship from Mom (Dorothy Malone) and their daughter, who were in the cabin. The result is that Dad winds up on the right side of the gaping hole, that being the side from which escaping the ship is going to be relatively easy. The kid is on the wrong side of the hole, but with a little help should be able to make her way to safety. Mom, however, is trapped under a steel beam! Hooray for cheap plot devices that introduce suspense!

What's a father to do? He goes to the crew for help, but unsurprisingly, they have bigger problems. They have to worry about the entire ship and all the passengers, and not just poor little Robert Stack. And among the officers there's still some debate as to whether the ship can be saved. The second officer (Edmond O'Brien) wants to abandon the ship and start getting the passengers off and to safety now; the aging captain still seems to think the ship can be saved. Neither of them has much time for the the problems of a single passenger. Thankfully, there are other crew members working to get all the passengers off. Stack finds one of the stokers, Woody Strode, and he's willing to help Stack.

The Last Voyage is fairly predictable stuff, especially if you've seen the more epic movies of the 1970s. And to be honest, it's only moderately good. Robert Stack shouts his way through his role (although in his defense, what else is a man who's got a wife trapped under a girder to do?); Dorothy Malone is trapped under the aforementioned beam; the kid is annoying; George Sanders isn't given much more to do than Malone; and Woody Strode only seems to be there for the purpose of running around half-naked and tittilating the ladies in the same way that a Mamie Van Doren or Jane Russell would tittilate the men. Still, dammit, The Last Voyage is entertaining. Which means that, despite all its flaws, it's a good movie that does precisely what it set out to do. And there's one big positive, too, which is that the filmmakers got an actual old ship about to be decommissioned on which to film, so that many of the sets are authentic. That ship is the Île de France, which is famous for being the first ship to come to the rescue of the Andrea Doria when it had its collision back in the mid-1950s.

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