Cast & Crew
In the late 1800's, the luxury cruise liner the SS Crescent Star strikes a discarded land mine in the South Atlantic and sinks in the ensuing explosion. Of the ship's 1,156 passengers, only twenty- seven survive. Among them is Executive Officer Alec Holmes, who clings to the flotsam of the ruined vessel. When Alec sees ship's nurse Julie White, with whom he is in love, foundering in the water, he swims out to save her. From a lifeboat in the distance, Will McKinley, one of the ship's officers, beckons to Alec and Julie to join them. The boat, built to hold nine passengers, soon is overburdened by the twenty-seven survivors that have sought refuge there. Once Alec reaches the boat, the ship's fatally injured captain, Paul Darrow, passes his command and his cherished ring to Alec, admonishing him to "save as many as he can." After Darrow dies, Alec dons the captain's jacket, then orders his body cast over the side. Alec's first crisis of command arises when Aubrey Clark, one of the passengers, begs to keep his beloved dog aboard. After the blustery Maj. Gen. Barrington demands that the dog be sacrificed, Alec brandishes his revolver and threatens to charge the major with mutiny if he refuses to follow orders. Alec then declares that the dog will stay aboard to serve as food if necessary. When Alec asks Jill to examine the passengers for injuries, she reports that Frank Kelly, the ship's engineer, has been riddled with parts from the engine explosion. Mrs. Kilgore, the mother of little Peter, is suffering from broken ribs, and Mrs. Ruth Spencer has a battered arm that will have to be amputated. With only one gallon of water aboard, Alec allows the survivors only two sips a day and warns that anyone countermanding his orders will be thrown overboard. Alec's hopes that a nearby cruiser is steaming to their rescue are dashed when he learns that "Sparks" Clary, the ship's radio operator, was unable to send out a distress signal because the ship's transmitter had been smashed in the explosion. With no other alternatives, Alec calculates that the closest land is in Africa, 1,500 miles away. To alleviate the overload, Alec orders the men to take shifts floating in the water beside the boat. Sarcastically addressing Alec as "brave captain", socialite Edith Middleton insists on taking her own turn in the sea. As Mrs. Kilgore begs for a drink of water, the dying Kelly warns Alec that unless he disposes of the "useless" passengers, all will die. As a storm approaches, Kelly stands up and proclaims that he is dead, as are Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Kilgore. After declaring that Alec must put twelve people over the side, Kelly leaps to his death. When the winds begin to rage, Alec startles the survivors by announcing that the weak must go and orders McKinley, his second-in-command, to toss Mrs. Spencer over the side. Shocked by Alec's heartlessness, McKinley goes overboard with her. Next, Alec orders Mrs. Kilgore and her husband George into the water. When George insist that their young son Peter join them, Michael Faroni, one of the passengers, promises to take care of the boy, who then watches as his parents are cast away to certain death. After Alec orders Aubrey into the water, his dog leaps in after him. The elderly Mrs. Dorothy Knudsen meets her death with dignity when she is commanded to go overboard. Julie watches in horror and disbelief as Alec pronounces the death sentences, one by one. As Edith recites the roll call of death, Faroni pulls out a knife and orders Alec to turn back and save the others. Alec's revolver is out of bullets, so he seizes a flare gun and shoots Faroni. Before dying, Faroni hurls his knife into Alec's shoulder. As the storm hits with gale force winds, Alec rallies the survivors to keep rowing. When the storm finally wanes, the survivors are amazed that they are still alive. Although the others thank Alec for saving their lives, Jill warns that he will live in shame for his actions. Believing that he is dying, Alec passes his command and ring to Clary, then jettisons himself overboard. After the others pull him back into the boat, a ship's horn is heard in the distance and they fire a flare to signal the vessel. As the ship steams toward them, every survivor literally turns his back on Alec, except for Edith, who insists that he made the right decision. After thanking his crew for their courage and help, Alec instructs them to row toward the ship. Upon reaching their rescuers, Clary turns and hands the ring back to Alec. Later, after facing trial for murder, Alec is convicted, but sentenced to six months in prison due to extenuating circumstances.
Sir Arthur Bliss
R. L. M. Davidson
W. S. Salter
John R. Sloan
The opening credits run over a shot of a rusted, floating derelict mine in the ocean. The soundtrack features a mournful harmonica. At the end of the credits there is a fiery explosion superimposed on the screen, followed by shots of debris floating in the water; no ship is seen. An off-screen narrator informs the viewer, "On the morning of September 27th, the super liner Crescent Star, en route across the South Atlantic Ocean on the first leg of a round-the-world cruise, exploded and sank in seven minutes. There were 1,156 souls aboard at the moment of disaster. In seven minutes, 1,119 perished. 37 survived."
Amidst the flotsam of the ship's wreckage, Executive Officer Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power) hoists himself up on a floating raft, occupied by survivors Mr. Wheaton (Finlay Currie), Arthur J. Middleton (Robert Harris), and two others. Determining that the steward on board is dead, Holmes pushes him overboard. He confirms for the others that the explosion was caused by a derelict mine that lodged under the hull of the ship: "plain bad luck." Holmes rescues a dog, and then sees his sweetheart - the ship's nurse, Julie White (Mai Zetterling) calling to him. Holmes swims out to rescue her but they drift too far from the raft. The couple splashes the water to deflect a shark, then swim for the only other refuge: an overflowing boat. Holmes recognizes that it is not a lifeboat, but rather the Captain's shore boat. It is eighteen feet long and designed for nine men, but it carries twenty-seven, including several in the sea who hold onto ropes on the side.
The Captain (Laurence Naismith) is dying, and he hands command to Holmes. The gravity of the situation becomes clear to all; there is only one gallon of water on board and no distress signal was sent because the ship's radio was destroyed in the blast. Despite challenges from Maj. Gen. Barrington (Clive Morton) and sarcasm from socialite Edith Middleton (Moira Lister), Holmes takes on the role of commander and has the support of another shipmate, Will McKinley (Stephen Boyd). The ship's engineer (Lloyd Nolan) is also dying from his wounds, and he gives Holmes some grim advice: to save the able-bodied among the survivors, he will have to set adrift the sick, wounded and elderly among the passengers.
Abandon Ship was produced by Tyrone Power through his Copa Productions; this was the first and only film Power produced to star himself. The other two projects turned out by his company were Count Three and Pray (1955), a western starring Van Heflin and Joanne Woodward, and the notable Film Noir Nightfall (1957), starring Aldo Ray and directed by Jacques Tourneur. Power's casting of himself as the lead in Abandon Ship was quite a daring move; the moral ambiguity of the character was not typical Leading Man territory for any actor. Since the film is not set during wartime, the hard choices of life and death that are made are not influenced by allegiance to country and duty, an aspect that sets it apart from Hitchcock's Lifeboat. The script by Richard Sale is loosely based on the sinking of the American ship William Brown in 1841, although the real-life incident was on a much smaller scale; the William Brown hit an iceberg 250 miles off Newfoundland and lost 31 of its 65 passengers. Two boats with 17 crewmen and the remaining passengers escaped the wreck, but more than a dozen passengers were sacrificed from the crowded longboat. One of the crewmen, named Alexander Holmes, was convicted on a manslaughter charge after the jury threw out a charge of murder.
Writing in the New York Times, A. H. Weiler calls Abandon Ship "a grim but absorbing adventure" and has high praise for writer-director Richard Sale, who "...wastes no time on false heroics or flamboyant dialogue." Weiler also writes, "Mr. Power, favored by the camera throughout, acquits himself nobly. He makes a strong, efficient and genuinely human leader, who adequately projects the tortures of his awful assignment. Unfortunately, Mr. Sale has not drawn full characterizations from the rest of the cast but there are convincing, if brief, portrayals. ...[The filmmakers] may not have created a masterpiece but they have come up with a thoughtful and often gripping drama that mirrors man at his best and worst."
The last act of the 1937 Paramount picture Souls at Sea, starring Gary Cooper, also seems to reference the William Brown incident. A full-blown retelling of the story can be seen in the made-for-television movie The Last Survivors (1975), with Martin Sheen as Holmes.
Producer: John R. Sloan; Tyrone Power (uncredited)
Director: Richard Sale
Screenplay: Richard Sale
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Art Direction: Raymond Sim
Music: Sir Arthur Bliss
Film Editing: Raymond Poulton
Cast: Tyrone Power (Alec Holmes), Mai Zetterling (Nurse Julie White), Lloyd Nolan (Frank Kelly), Stephen Boyd (Will McKinley), Moira Lister (Edith Middleton), James Hayter ('Cookie' Morrow), Marie Lohr (Dorothy Knudson), Finlay Currie (Mr. Wheaton), John Stratton (Jimmy 'Sparks' Clary), Victor Maddern (Willy Hawkins).
by John M. Miller
The working titles of this film were Seven Waves Away and Seven Seas Away. The film opens with an offscreen narrator describing the tragedy of the wreck of the SS Crescent Star as if reading aloud a story from a newspaper. The film closes with the narrator relating the fate of the captain, who was sentenced to six months in prison. The narrator then asks the audience if they believe the captain to be innocent or guilty. Abandon Ship marked Tyrone Power's first and only starring vehicle for his production company, Copa Productions, Ltd. According to a June 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Power originally wanted Hildegarde Neff to play the role of "Edith Middleton." Filming was done at the Shepperton Studios in London, England. Although the Variety review notes that the story was based on a "true incident," an April 1957 New York Times news item casts doubt on that supposition, stating that the story was "reportedly based on a sea saga." The film's production files at the AMPAS Library make no mention of a true incident. The story also served as the basis for the April 4, 1975 NBC "world premiere movie" titled "The Last Survivors." The television version starred Martin Sheen, Diane Baker and Tom Bosley and was directed by Lee Katzin.
Released in United States Spring May 1957
Released in United States Spring May 1957