Saturday, July 30, 2011

ANTIQUE or CLASSIC? "Action in the North Atlantic"


     “Action in the North Atlantic” is a propagandistic war movie from 1943 that praises the Merchant Marine. It stars Humphrey Bogart as Humphrey Bogart. It was shot entirely on the Warner Brothers back lot and sound stages. It was used as a recruiting film for the Merchant Marine and also as a training film. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. At one point during the filming, drunken Bogart and Massey replaced their stunt men for a dive from a burning ship.

     The movie opens strong with the S.S. Northstar being torpedoed by a u-boat. In one of the fieriest scenes in movie history (think “Backdraft” on a ship), they abandon ship. The dastardly German submarine commander rams their lifeboat and leaves laughing. It would be great if they could get revenge on that bastard!

     After eleven days on a raft (with no visible food or water), they are back in port and then home. Capt. Jarvis (Raymond Massey) reunites with his loving wife who understands that “to a sailor’s wife, war is just another storm.” Meanwhile, Lt. Rossi (Bogart) punches out a guy blabbing about convoys and then marries a singer. The rest of the crew frequents the union hall waiting for another ship. This is one of the rare references to unions in movies from that time period. One sailor reluctant to risk his life again is shamed into being a patriot.

     The new ship is a Liberty ship called the "Seawitch". It joins an international convoy heading for Murmansk. Anyone expecting it to be a milk run – think again. There is a new officer on board, Cadet Parker from the Merchant Marine Academy. He shows Rossi a picture of his girl – cliché alert! In a fog bank, they tow a big wooden arrow so the next ship can follow. Another ship scrapes them.

     A wolfpack attacks the convoy. There is frantic action as the torpedoes wreak havoc and the convoy disperses. The escorts depth charge their foes. There are plenty of explosions. The Seawitch gets to fire its deck gun at submarines that inexplicably are on the surface in daylight. When the battle ends, they are alone, but being stalked by u-boat-know-who. It is a cat and mouse game and during the night both go silent.

     The next day, they are attacked by two German flying boats (obvious models, but authentic). They strafe and both are shot down because in war movies anti-aircraft crews on cargo ships are unbelievably accurate. The second plane crashes into the ship in a very fake looking effect. Guess what soon to be married character is killed? Dude, never show a picture of your girl in a war movie!

     Suddenly they are torpedoed. Rossi (in command because Jarvis was injured in the plane attack) orders fires to be set and smoke made to lure the stupid Germans up. Sure enough, it works. Dramatically the Seawitch comes out of the smoke and rams the u-boat. Turn about is fair play. The pompous German commander drowns. High five! Somehow Rossi knows it’s the same sub.

     They arrive to cheering crowds in Murmansk. The Russians love us. We get a montage of merchant ships and some FDR quotes to swell the audience's pride a little more before they got in their Model As to go home.

     The movie is actually not that bad for a propaganda piece made during the war. It is preachy, but not overly so. The action is good as is the acting. The cast has a lot of recognizable faces and their sailor banter below decks is humorous in a 1940s way. The special effects are low grade, but what do you expect for the time period? The duel with the sub is a little ridiculous and unrealistic so the ending does not match the first set piece.

Classic or antique? Classic.

Rating – 7/10


  1. To be honest compared to the sarcasm you use to summarize this movie the 7/10 seem not justified... I have seen quite a lot of Bogart movies but not this one and I'm not too sure I want to watch it.

  2. the war movie buffJuly 31, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    That's not sarcasm, that's snarkiness. But you may be right about the rating. I do not think you should bother with this one. I'm not even sure why I watched it. Comapred to the British WWII naval movies, it is inferior.


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