When Charlton Heston’s tugboat comes across a derelict ship drifting in a rough sea, the opening half hour of this Michael Anderson film takes on an eerie quality that works in it’s favor of grabbing the viewer to see where this ghost ship tale is going to take us.
Behind the camera for this MGM tale is director Michael Anderson who guides Heston on board the smoldering ship. While Heston climbs aboard, the ship is being tossed in a first rate special effects job with waves and water pounding our bankable star of the day. Heston is thinking of a salvage job and moves about the deserted ship looking for signs of life. With a eerie twilight zone melody on the soundtrack, Heston tries to decipher the mystery of the Mary Deare. Upon descending to the engine room, he hears footsteps and sets out to track them.
Gary Cooper strikes! He’s grizzled and has a crazed look in his eyes. With the classic Coop drawl he isn’t saying much about his deserted ship. When Heston can’t descend the ropes and retreat to his tugboat due to the high waves, he becomes part of the adventure that Cooper has directed his sinking ship into. The mystery intensifies.
Heston comes to realize that Coop intends to ground the sinking ship in the middle of a rocky shoal in unchartered waters. His reasons are never clear and Coop hopes to keep Heston from speaking to the courts governing the seas and the insurance company claims that will come forward. He tells Heston, “You can haul me in or leave me to drown.”
The duo are picked up in a life boat and brought back to England. Cooper immediately runs afoul of the crew that abandoned the ship on the high seas led by a young and stuffy Richard Harris. Harris has a far different story to tell the courts presided over by Cecil Parker then the one Cooper intends to tell.
The tale takes a decided twist towards espionage and what may be found in the cargo hold that is now flooded by the rush of incoming salt water. Just what was Cooper out to accomplish? Heston himself is starting to wonder and along with Coop sets out to solve the mystery with the legendary actor. They’ll have to take on the plot’s villain to do so. The up and coming Harris. Harris was far down the billing list though he would work his way up to practically equal billing opposite Heston in 1965’s flawed “masterpiece” Major Dundee from Sam Peckinpah.
Truthfully the final sixty minutes doesn’t live up to the opening half hour where the ghost ship creates an eerie mystery that only gets deeper when Cooper turns up and his actions hint that he may be mad. A hidden body in the coal shaft adds to that line of thought. Still it’s a decent thriller with first rate F/X that were done according to Heston’s autobiography in a large indoor pool that was used in the past for Esther Williams musicals. Chuck goes on to talk about working with Cooper and getting to like the man who would only make one more film before succumbing to cancer shortly afterwards.
This so-so film is a great example of what I love to point out. It’s not so much making a classic that counts this time out. It’s knowing that Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston co-starred in a feature film together. At the end of the day, they both can be considered cinematic giants and to see them onscreen together has to be considered somewhat special as we look back upon the history of the movies. Too many times we are cheated of pairings like Cooper and Wayne or Bogie and Gable.
Briefly turning up in this tale of the sea is Michael Redgrave, Alexander Knox and as the lone lady of any importance to the plot, Miss Virginia McKenna.
Mary Deare turned up years back as part of the Warner Brothers Gary Cooper Signature Collection box set should you be looking to score a copy for your own collection as I did for mine upon it’s release.