Sunday, June 7, 2015

"The Long Voyage Home" with John Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald (1940)

This is simply one of the best screen adaptations of any of Eugene O'Neill’s' works. Director John Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols did the adaptation of the 4 separate one act plays that comprise this movie. The work is seamless.

Beginning with the varied nationalities of the crew O'Neill explores the relationships of men at sea. With a stellar cast of actors which includes Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ian Hunter, Ward Bond, Wilfrid Lawson, Arthur Shields and even John Wayne (who plays the entire role with a Swedish accent) Mr. O'Neill has given us a glimpse into the troubled lives of the men who sail on ships.

With his use of flawed characters he paints a wonderfully realistic portrait of life aboard a tramp steamer. Filmed in 1940 when U-boats were prowling the Atlantic to keep supplies from reaching Europe, this film captures all the darkness of the times in which it was filmed. It would be less than a year before the Rueben James was sunk off the East Coast of the United States by a German submarine.

From the overzealous camaraderie to the brawls and tragedies, this film captures all the pathos of life at sea. Even now, with DVD's and cell phones and e-mails, life aboard a ship is a lonely affair. Tempers run high, words are said and instantly regretted, and unfounded suspicions abound. That is the life of a ship’s crew.

One of the best moments of the film involves the crew ashore in England during a blackout. Thomas Mitchell- always the drunk- cries out to the heavens- "Blackout, blackout! Is there to be no more light in the world?"

The most amazing thing about this film is that John Ford would go on making films for another 40 years. He would use the same group of actors time and again in Westerns and later on even "The Quiet Man" with John Wayne and Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields and Maureen O'Hara. That these actors were so versatile, and John Ford so well versed in literature, is a tribute to the old school of film making.

The plot of this film would seem mundane were I to attempt to recount it here. Suffice to say that it is the story of a group of lost souls, looking for themselves. You'll just have to trust me on this one- Eugene O'Neill termed it the "best adaptation" of any of his works. That alone should be reason enough to see this film.

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