Morning Departure (1950)
In Sir John Mills’ autobiography he refers to this peace time naval story as, “one of the films I am proud to have been associated with.” A strong statement from a legendary actor of the British stage and screen.
When a British submarine under the command of Mills is out on training maneuvers it strikes a floating mine and plummets to the depths of the sea. All hands on board are lost in areas that have been flooded. We are left with twelve survivors including a young Richard Attenborough. Mills will have to make life and death decisions for the remainder of his crew.
Naval headquarters assigns Mills long time friend Bernard Lee to begin salvage operations to rescue the men from certain death. When his ship arrives at the location of the sinking Mills sends up four men equipped with breathing apparatus’ through one of the subs towers by flooding it thereby sealing it from use a second time. He plans to send four more men upwards from the rear of the sub when the signal is given from above as well.
Tensions among the eight remaining men will reach a fever pitch when Mills announces that the four remaining men will have no scuba equipment to flood the main chamber and escape. They’ll have to wait for salvage operations to actually raise the sub which could take more than a week at best. There is no guarantee that the submarine can be brought up which of course would condemn the four men to their deaths.
Mills will be staying below and rather than burdening himself with selecting four men to go above decides upon drawing cards to pick the next four to ascend. All the while above Lee is battling the weather and a superior officer who wants to abandon the operation.
In the films opening scenes the script focuses on aging commander Mills and his wife’s desire to see him retire from the navy and take a job with her Father’s firm. On the flip side we have young Attenborough married to a lush. He’s constantly being moved around from ship to ship and finds himself at odds with most crew members. He’ll have the opportunity to make good in the eyes of his fellow man before the fade out of this J. Arthur Rank Production. Not uncommonly this film went through a title change for it’s North American release.
Serving as the film’s director is Roy Ward Baker who had a long and successful career. Once the ship is on the ocean floor he keeps the tension knotted up. Baker would also direct the most noted sea disaster story of the Titanic, A Night to Remember in 1958. As late as 1984 he would be directing John Mills once again as Watson opposite Peter Cushing’s Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death.
Attenborough is very young here and is on loan from The Boulting Brothers as the opening credits point out. Initially his character isn’t a likeable one but when faced with adversity he finds his true voice.
A nice addition to the many fine British films put out after WW2 that focused on the military during both war and peace times. The only thing that seems to be missing is Alec Guinness.