Saturday, May 19, 2012

#531 Top 20 Films at Sea

After seeing Boat Trip last year, I wondered how many other films have been set on ocean liners.  So I've been doing some serious cinematic research in my TV room.  As you can tell from the results of my in-depth investigation, the heyday for shipboard films was the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.  Chronologically, here are my top 20.

One Way Passage (1932)
SS Maloa
There's much to like in this 24-day voyage across the Pacific from Hong Kong to Honolulu to San Francisco with William Powell and Kay Francis.   Powell, aka the Thin Man, is perfect as the debonair murderer headed for San Quentin.  And Francis plays the terminally ill socialite.  They fall in love, of course, and choose not to tell their secret.  Made in 1932, this is the oldest of all the films listed here and it is my favorite.  I'd love to see the remake: Till We Meet Again (1940).  Nautical highlights: trip through the engine room, map of route with breadcrumb trail (to use a GIS term I've picked up.)

Dodsworth (1936)
RMS Queen Mary
There are three Atlantic crossings in Dodsworth, on the RMS Queen Mary, on the RMS Aquitania, and on the SS Rex.  But most of the story of Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton's failing marriage happens on land.  Nautical highlight:  The RMS Queen Mary is used as a filming location.

Shall We Dance (1937)
SS Queen Anne
With music provided by George and Ira Gershwin, Fred Astaire follows Ginger Rogers across the Atlantic on the SS Queen Anne in this their 7th of 10 films together.  My favorite scene: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (on roller skates!).  Nautical highlight: Slap That Bass in the ship's art deco boiler room. 

Love Affair (1939)
SS Napoli
Irene Dunne's favorite film spurred pink champagne sales and a host of remakes: An Affair to Remember (1957), Love Affair (1994), and Mann (the 1999 Bollywood film).

The Lady Eve (1941)
SS Southern Queen
After spending a year on the Amazon River, the ophiologist Henry Fonda sails home on the SS Southern Queen where he meets and falls in love with the scam artist Barbara Stanwyck.  Nautical highlight: the outside dining area reminds me of deck 6 dining on the MV Explorer.

Now, Voyager (1942)
Walt Whitman said, "The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted / Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find."  Whitman's poem inspires Bette Davis to sail on a South American cruise to seek and to find.  She sails to Rio and finds love.  Bette likes this film because it became the biggest box office hit of her career.  I like it because it's the one film on this list that mentions a shipboard library.

Song of the Thin Man (1947)
SS Fortune
Have you seen the Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy?  They're delightful, especially the first one.  They were running out of steam by the time they reached the sixth and last one in the series, but setting it on the S.S. Fortune was the perfect ending.

Romance on the High Seas (1948)
SS Southern Queen
In Doris Day's very first film, she travels to Havana and Rio, two cities that are still on my bucket list.  Before docking at the first port of her months-long voyage around South America, she falls in love with the detective who has been hired to follow her.  Romance, the high seas, some high jinks, and Doris Day - what more could you want?      

Royal Wedding (1951)
Fred Astaire and Jane Powell travel by ship to London at the time of Princess Elizabeth's wedding.   The Atlantic crossing isn't nearly long enough (less than a half hour screen time), but Astaire makes up for it by dancing on the walls and ceiling of his London hotel room.

A Blueprint for Murder (1953)
Four films made in 1953 (A Blueprint for Murder, Dangerous Crossing, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Titanic) were all filmed on the same sets. Sets?!  How disappointing to discover the films were not made on a ship!   In this film, Joseph Cotten follows the suspected murderess Jean Peters onto a ship bound for England.

Dangerous Crossing (1953)
In this film noir classic, newlyweds board a trans-Atlantic ocean liner in New York City, but the husband goes missing and the crew doesn't believe there ever was a husband.  Nautical highlight: a trip through the engine room.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (1953)
SS Ile de France
The SS Ile de France is famous for carrying passengers from the SS Andrea Dorea in 1956 after it collided with the MS Stockholm.  In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sing their way across the Atlantic, fall in love, wear dazzling fashions, and in this scene - point out the round windows.

Titanic (1953)
RMS Titanic
The only music heard during the film is played by the musicians aboard the ship. No background music is played.  The drama on board includes Barbara Stanwyck leaving her husband and a 23-year-old Robert Wagner (a Purdue tennis player) falling in love with Stanwyck's daughter.

The Birds and the Bees (1956)
SS Southern Queen
A remake of The Lady Eve (1941), this film stars George Gobel as the ophiologist and Mitzi Gaynor as the scam artist.  In this version, Gobel returns from the Congo River instead of the Amazon River, but everything else is the same - just not as good.  

An Affair to Remember (1957)
SS Constitution
Of course, this film with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr is the shipboard film everyone talks about and rightly so.  It's the first remake of Love Affair (1939) and the best of all versions.

Carry on Cruising (1962)
SS Happy Wanderer
According to IMDB, the SS Happy Wanderer was a life-size mock-up, complete with all the features of a real cruise ship.  IMDB also reports that even though the cruise ship docks at several ports (Spain, Italy, North Africa), it always moors against the same quayside with the same tree standing on it.  I didn't  notice.  

Ship of Fools (1965)
In Vivien Leigh's last film, the German ocean liner Vera sails from Veracruz, Mexico to Cuba to Spain to  Bremerhaven, Germany in 1933.  Like the Porter novel, this is a sad story of the passengers - some oblivious, some happy - to be headed toward a Nazi-rising Germany. 

Out to Sea (1997)
MS Westerdam
Out to Sea is one of ten movies made by good friends Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  So many of the earlier shipboard films were made in a sound studio rather than on location on a ship.  But it looks like the MS Westerdam was actually used for filming Out to Sea.  Or it's movie magic. 

The Impostors (1998)
SS Intercontinental
Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt are just two of the impostors in this Laurel-and-Hardy kind of comedy set on an ocean liner sailing from New York to Paris in the 1930s.  The opening silent sequence is my favorite part.  My least favorite part is the line dance during the closing credits, starting on the ship and dancing through the soundstage.  I didn't need/want to have the ship illusion destroyed.

The Legend of 1900 (1998)
1900 is the name given to an infant born in that year and abandoned by his immigrant parents on a cruise ship.  (Exterior shots are the inspired blueprints of the SS Lusitania, according to IMDB.)  Adopted by a stoker, 1900 grows up on the ship.  Tim Roth plays the adult 1900, a gifted pianist and composer of music inspired by his fellow passengers.  The piano duel between 1900 and Jelly Roll Morton is the highlight for me, but this is the ship movie that made me cry.

Yours in traveling through nautical cinema,