The Sea Chase

  • Directed by John Farrow
  • June 4, 1955
  • Based on the 1948 novel The Sea Chase by Andrew Geer

A German captain is determined to get his freighter home during the opening months of World War II as he is chased by the Australian and British navies.

The Sea Chase is a World War II adventure yarn featuring John Wayne as the stoic and principled Captain Karl Ehrlich of a German freighter. Here though generally these Germans have no love of war nor of the leadership currently in charge of their nation. As concepts go usually the Germans are the baddies with any that are not “Go Third Reich!” never getting on film. Ehrlich is portrayed as an honest and moral as he lost his naval command for refusing to support the Nazi party.

Karl is a man of honor married to the sea. He seeks to do his job and duty and in a paternal way looks after his men. Wayne plays to his image and generally character type in this part. He is the manliest of men and the best of the best.

What is a John Wayne movie without a beautiful woman for him to fall head over heels over? Enter Elsa Keller (Lana Turner). In this she is the fiancé of Karl’s friend British Royal Navy Commander Jeff Napier (David Farrar). Elsa it turns out is actually a spy sent to Australia to marry into ANY British naval family for intelligence purposes. As femme fatales go, she is more “Oh, darn!” than actually dangerous. Seducing men for secrets comes off as a casual gig in her mind in this portrayal.

And more importantly what is a John Wayne film without a love triangle? Here Wayne’s Karl is competing Elsa’s affections (though is this man truly any competition for John Wayne?) with Karl’s pro-Nazi chief officer Kirchner (Lyle Bettger) who also is with German intelligence. Does Kirchner get a first name? No because he is less of a man than Karl Ehrlich.

There is nothing special about the story in The Sea Chase these days though back then given the time in which it was released this was probably something a little more unique. Narratives about by the seat of the pants survival and scraping by are nothing unusual. What sets this apart though is that this is a story that features German characters during WWII and not Americans. 

Perhaps for the best none of the actors playing major German characters really tried to fake accents. AConsul-General Hepke (Wilton Graff) who foists Elsa upon the crew of the Ergenstrasse I believe is one of the extreme few in the entire movie that sports a German accent. Everybody else uses whatever their natural speaking voice was. Somehow I don’t think John Wayne could’ve pulled off a convincing German accent. 

The Sea Chase is as much melodrama as survival yarn. We have love and lust and characters who give it their all and hide their weakness from everyone. There is the threat of capture/destruction as well as the evil among them that creates internal conflict. We have a high stakes game of cat and mouse on the high seas.

During the course of the movie Kirchner kills some Brits at a shipwreck station presumably to help cover the escape of the Ergenstrasse as they flee. The thing is this later becomes a major sticking point as the British government is well aware that it was someone from Karl’s very ship that killed these shipwrecked sailors. They were all killed so there were no witnesses. How did they know? Who told them? Was it a lucky guess on their part? I don’t know and that bothers me.

The story is okay but good directing and beautiful scenery and better than it should’ve been acting really elevates things here. The main problem is things don’t feel as dire for the crew as they should. At least during the trip to safety. They are running low on fuel and resources, but it never feels as if they are scraping by.

The ending though is perhaps the best part. It leaves the ultimate fate of Karl and his crew uncertain. There is nothing conclusive on the sinking of the boat with the implication by narrator that they could have made it home and just disappeared. I found that creative touch nice. The story is serviceably directed and competently written with generally fine acting. There is nothing bad but nothing that elevates it far above other movies at this point.

The Sea Chase isn’t bad but it’s not something great. It’s a fine John Wayne story but the concept has been better executed before or since. While I enjoyed it and probably will revisit it again it’s not something I will call a must see.

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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