SYNOPSIS: In what might be the shortest opening narration the movie opens with “This is the story of a ship”. The ship is the HMS Torrin which is sunk during the Battle of Crete fourteen minutes into the movie. Some of the crew, including Capt. Kinross (Noel Coward), take refuge in a lifeboat. The film then settles into a series of flashbacks relating the stories of Kinross, Ordinary Seaman Blake (John Mills), and others. The various flashbacks contrast the lower, middle, and upper class strata on a ship.
BACK-STORY: “In Which We Serve” was released in 1942. The movie was a tour de force for Noel Coward. He produced, directed (with assistance from David Lean), starred, wrote the screenplay, and even helped with the music. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for “outstanding production achievement”. It lost Best Picture to “Casablanca”. It was also nominated for Original Screenplay. The movie was given full cooperation of the British Ministry of Information. It gave advice on how to do effective propaganda.
TRIVIA: wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1. It was inspired by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten. Specifically, his captaincy of the HMS Kelly, which was sunk in the Battle of Crete. Mountbatten served as an uncredited technical adviser. He pulled strings to provide sailor extras. The final speech by the fictional captain was based on Mountbatten’s speech to his survivors after the sinking and rescue.
2. Coward intended to do all the directing himself, but soon found that it was not his cup of tea and he was not good with action scenes. He swallowed his pride and brought in David Lean (who at the time was a well-respected editor) to do much of the directing and gave him credit.
3. The royal family visited the set and the newsreel coverage was great publicity.
4. The HMS Torrin was played by the Australian destroyer Nepal.
5. It was shown to all Royal Navy recruits as an example of Navy life.
6. Chief Electrician Jock Dymore was killed when he rushed to reshoot a gun turret explosion and it resulted in a premature explosion.
7. Richard Attenborough made his film debut.
8. In America, the Hays Office wanted the movie to cut the words “God”, “hell”, “damn”, and “bastard”. British outrage resulted in only bastard being cut.
9. Juliet Mills debuted as the one year-old baby of Shorty Blake.
10. A full size model of the Torrin was built for use in a soundstage.
11. A real JU-88 was used to bomb and strafe the Torrin. The movie had cooperation from all three branches of the British military.
12. The narration was by Leslie Howard, who was uncredited.
13. The cinematography features many wavy, watery transitions known as “oily dissolves”.
Belle and Blade = 2.5
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = N/A
Military History = no
Channel 4 = #57
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = no
OPINION: This is a great movie. I am a big fan and am pleased that it made it on the list. It is often overlooked today, but was a significant movie when released. It is a very British war movie, but was popular in the U.S. It boosted the positive feelings toward our ally. I feel it is better than the similar “The Cruel Sea”. It is extremely well-written, not surprising from Coward. The conversations ring true. The people talk like real people, not characters in a movie. The action scenes, filmed by David Lean, are well done. There is an interesting and instructive blend of sailor’s lives and the lives of their women. It is especially commendable for not being totally officer-centric. The balance between the officers and the enlisted is a nice touch. It is extremely effective propaganda, but it is subtle.