Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Long Voyage Home

Another movie that's been on my DVR for a while is The Long Voyage Home. Recently I sat down to watch it.

It's the start of the European theater of World War II, although the US is not yet involved in the war. The Glencairn is a British merchant ship which, at the start of the movie is in the British West Indies, about to make a trip up the coast to the US. The crew hails mostly from the British Isles, with Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell) being the sort of leader of the gang, if you can call a group of friends like this one that has a leader. There are also a couple of Swedes in the crew, Axel (John Qualen) and Olsen (John Wayne).

The movie is based on four one-act plays by playwright Eugene O'Neill, so the movie is more of an episodic movie than one that has a fully-fledged plot. The first of the episodes involves the crew trying to get womenfolk on board because even seamen need intimacy with women once in a while. After that, the ship picks up its cargo, and the captain does something the sailors don't like, which is telling them all shore leave is being cancelled. That's because the cargo is munitions, and it's imperative that the Germans don't find out about the munitions. With the war on, German U-boats are goin gafter British shipping, and frankly any shipping that might be headed for the UK.

Obviously, the sailors don't like the danger, but there's not much they can do about it. Or maybe there is. Smitty (Ian Hunter), one of the sailors, is acting suspiciously, going into the radio room, seemingly not keeping the blackout, and keeping a secret locked box underneath his mattress. So the other crewmen think that perhaps Smitty might be a spy. They confront him and find out.... Well, I'm not going to give that part of the story away.

Eventually, the ship does make it to the UK, where Olsen says that he wants to get back to Sweden and dry land, because he grew up on a farm and hasn't been back home in ten years, having spent his life on the open sea. Now would be a good time to go home, especially with the war on. But ship owners need crew, especially with a war on, and they try to get the sailors to sign up again for the film's final act.

I mentioned before that The Long Voyage Home was based on four one-act plays, which Eugene O'Neill wrote about his experiences during World War I. Director John Ford moves the action forward to World War I, which is a good move, since it keeps the action more current, at least in terms of what contemporary audiences would have been watching. For me, the episodic nature of the movie didn't quite work, although it's a movie that is extremely competently made. The performances are good, and Ford's direction is good as well. I just wish the script were more of a coherent whole.

Other people, however, aren't going to have a problem with the episodic nature of this one. I certainly didn't have any problems with another episodic film based on an O'Neill play, Ah, Wilderness!. So definitely give this one a watch.

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