Thursday, September 15, 2016

CRACKER? The Sea Wolves (1980)




                “The Sea Wolves: The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse” is an action adventure movie directed by Andrew McLaglen (“The Devil’s Brigade”).  He also had directed “The Wild Geese” and the original plan was for him to reunite with Richard Burton and Richard Harris.  Instead he got Gregory Peck and David Niven.  Ironically, they had been passed on for “Force Ten from Navarone” because of age two years before “Sea Wolves”.  Peck was 63 and Niven was 68.  Watch the movie and decide for yourself whether they were too old for action.  The movie was based on a true story of a mission that was classified until 1978.  The movie was originally going to be titled “Boarding Party” after the novel by James Leasor.  The movie had four German survivors who gave advice and Lewis Pugh was a technical advisor.  The film was dedicated to Lord Mountbatten who had been assassinated by the IRA a year earlier.

                U-boats have been sinking merchant ships in the Indian Ocean based on information being provided by a German freighter in a neutral port.  The British military cannot go after the freighter because of the neutrality.  Col. Pugh (Peck) is the head of Special Operations Executive in New Delhi.  He and Capt. Stewart (Roger Moore) hatch a plan to use the old coots from the local Calcutta Light Cavalry chapter to participate in a mission to destroy the ship.  Meanwhile, Stewart is having a Bondesque tryst with a German spy named Agnes Cromwell (Barbara Kellerman).  They hijack a boat and sail to the site.  They arrange for a big soiree for the German officers and a carnival with free whores for the crew to distract the freighter.  All this leads to the boarding of the ship and our geriatric tumult.

                “The Sea Wolves” is an average movie from the special mission subgenre.  It does stand out a bit due to the casting which could be described as a stunt casting.  It is a hoot to watch the coots, but their wrinkles are distracting and sad.  In this respect it reminds of “The Wild Geese”, but at least this all-geezer affair is true to the story of recruiting old soldiers.  That does not explain the casting of two sixty year olds as the SOE officers.  But aside from my ageist comments, the movie just simply lacks suspense.  The Stewart/Cartwright scenario is straight out of a Bond movie.  Moore wears a tuxedo, gambles in a casino, and has sex with a mysterious female spy. ( He made this movie between two Bond films.)  He even gets to do some Bondian ass kicking.  But the most interesting character is Cartwright.  She was 30 at the time of the shooting.  (Moore was 52.)  Cartwright is a stock character, but she is a Nazi so she brings some nastiness.  The big set piece is a mindless, preposterous excuse to blow things up and set things afire.  Fortunately, the lame-ass plan for the boarding is abandoned for no other reason than it would not provide enough fireworks.  By the way, stick around for the end credits if you want to hear a bizarre romantic song, “Precious Moments”.

                “The Sea Wolves” is nice escapism and it is fun watching Peck, Niven, Moore, and Howard pretend to be dashing again.  And kudos to the screenwriter for sticking fairly close to the historical tale.  Naturally, as you can read below, there are explosions and bloodshed added.

GRADE  =  C

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Leasor’s novel was based on Operation Creek.  British intelligence determined that the reason why twelve merchant ships had been sunk by u-boats in the Indian Ocean in March, 1943 was due to communications about Allied naval movements that were coming from a German freighter named the Ehrenfels in the harbor of Mormugao in the Portuguese territory of Goa.  SOE took on the clandestine mission to violate Portuguese neutrality to eliminate the transmitter.  Col. Pugh of the SOE was in charge of the operation.  The mission was to board the ship, disable the transmitter, and sink the ship.  Members of the Calcutta Light Horse were asked to participate and a number volunteered under retired Capt. Grice.  The Calcutta Light Horse was similar to a social club and the men, although veterans, were all middle aged and out of shape.  The 18 men sailed from Calcutta on a barge called the Phoebe.  They did not steal the ship.  When they arrived, Jock Cartwright arranged a festival, including loose women, to distract the German crews.  Mission accomplished.  At 2:30 A.M., the commandos boarded the ship.  The death to the captain early caused the skeleton crew to put up a poor defense, but someone did manage to open the sea valves.  When the ship began to list, the boarders returned to the barge and escaped.  The other two Germans berthed nearby were scuttled.  These were the only explosions.  The Brits suffered only minor casualties.  The mission was successful as only one ship was sunk in the rest of the month and only three in April.  The old vets were not decorated for the mission because of its sensitive nature and the public did not learn of it until the publishing of Boarding Party in 1978.  

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