Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Captain Hates the Sea (1934)

An offbeat comedy-drama with an all-star ensemble cast, set aboard a cruise ship on which various characters cross paths. There is the alcoholic writer (John Gilbert) who is on board to dry out and finish his novel. There are the private investigator (Victor McLaglen) and the crook he's pursuing (Fred Keating) who engage in a battle of wits over the stolen bonds and over the affections of the crook's partner-in-crime (Helen Vinson). There is the unhappy wife (Wynne Gibson) whose abusive husband (John Wray) hurts and humiliates her because of his embarrassment over her checkered past. Presiding over these and the various other passengers is the blustery, hot-tempered captain (Walter Connolly) who struggles to maintain control over his ship.

Notable mainly for its superb cast (which also finds room for such talents as Alison Skipworth, Leon Errol, Akim Tamiroff, and The Three Stooges), the film manages to be more than a just a curio, thanks to its intelligent script and to Lewis Milestone's direction, which contains some interesting camera choices that grant a strong degree of visual interest to the material. The interwoven threads of the various characters' stories are made all the more compelling through the deftly-handled shifts in tone between them, veering from moments of freewheeling comedy to sober drama. John Gilbert, in his final screen appearance, is especially poignant as the heavy-drinking author, considering the personal difficulties he was facing at this point in his career. 

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