Sunday 23 September 2007

The Long Voyage Home (1940) John Ford

We know that John Wayne made a lot of movies for John Ford, but after the success of 1939's Stagecoach, they obviously wanted to work together again quickly. That or the box office receipts made it a necessity. It's far from a western though, being based on four sea plays by Eugene O'Neill. Beyond Ford's direction, there's also another major name in the crew: cinematographer Gregg Toland, master of the techniques of deep focus, who a year later would bring it so memorably to Citizen Kane.

We're on the SS Glencairn out of London, it's somewhere in the West Indies with natives singing like they did in King Kong, and Thomas Mitchell is getting into trouble as always. He's Aloysius Driscoll and he's been sneaking onto shore to knock out local cops and find some way to smuggle rum and native girls on board. Mitchell is far from the only major name in the cast though. John Wayne is Ole Olsen, though his Swedish accent is atrocious. Ward Bond plays an American sailor who blows smoke rings. Ian Hunter is the new man in the crew, who joined up in South Africa. The manic steward, Cocky, is Barry Fitzgerald, making two future Oscar winners in the cast, with Mitchell already a winner.

The boat is a regular tramp steamer, not a military vessel, but it's wartime and the Captain is being asked to transport high explosives back home to help with the war effort. That's the main story but there are smaller stories throughout. Everyone seems agreed that Olsen needs to go home to help his mother, but if he doesn't go the next time they hit port he never will. Bond's character, known only as Yank, gets a long and lingering death scene. Smitty, Hunter's character, is fleeing from someone or something. There's a subplot about potential spies and one about being attacked by an enemy plane.

The weird thing is that while John Wayne is the star, he doesn't get to do much here. This is a Thomas Mitchell film really, and while Wayne was launched to stardom in Stagecoach, it was Mitchell that won the Oscar for it. Mitchell is also only third credited here, behind Barry Fitzgerald, who also gives a fine performance here and gets more screen time than Wayne. Sure, his lines are mostly one word ones but they're long words and they're said with passion, whereas Wayne's are simple and spoken in a terrible accent. To be fair, I've heard worse, but I've heard a lot better too.

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