Cast & Crew
At a secret military operation off the coast of Scotland, on an island nicknamed "Sorrento," the Royal Navy is testing a new torpedo. When lead scientist Vincent and a young sailor are killed in an underwater test, the Admiralty decides to call in Lieutenant Bradville, an American Naval officer who is an expert in DPT, the explosive used in the torpedo. Some of the officers resent having Bradville join them, especially Lieutenant Wharton, who was Vincent's assistant. The four remaining seamen, Lofty Turner, Charlie Badger, Sprog Sims and Haggis Mackintosh, who have all volunteered, are also apprehensive, especially Badger, whose sweetheart left him for an American during the war. When Bradville arrives, Wharton considers his insistence on redoing everything that has been done in the past as an insult to Vincent's memory. The softspoken and humble Bradville tries not to antagonize Wharton, but remains firm. Bradville's team, sailors Butch Clelland and Shorty Karminsky, join their British counterparts. Although the group is uncomfortable, they start to adjust, except for Badger, who is openly hostile. Soon Bradville incurs Wharton's increased resentment when he has Butch and Shorty, rather than the British crew, disassemble the torpedo. That evening, Badger warms to the Americans when Bradville offers him a drink, along with Butch and Shorty, but when Badger hears that Butch's last name is Clelland, the same as the American who ran off with his sweetheart, he quickly leaves. Later, Badger confronts Butch and learns that he is, indeed, the man who married his girl, although Butch did not know about Badger. Badger takes a swing at Butch and a fight ensues, but is broken up by the appearance of Petty Officer Herbert. Herbert, a bully who has a grudge against Lofty from a previous assignment, gives the men a warning when they refuse to reveal who started the fight. The next day, a dry run test on the torpedo seems to indicate that everything is fine, but Bradville is still worried they have missed something. That night, in the sailors' quarters, Butch reveals that his wife is a drinker and manchaser, thus angering Badger even more. Sometime later, as the real test of the torpedo is about to take place in a small, two-man submarine, Wharton is furious when he learns that Bradville has been taking lessons in navigating the vessel. Thinking that Bradville's "grandstanding" will lessen Vincent's memory, Wharton angrily confronts him. Bradville tries to explain that it is his duty to assume the risks himself, just as Vincent had done, but the decision is taken out of their hands when Lt. Sterling is selected to sail the sub. The second man has to come from the British sailors, who decide to draw lots. Haggis, the most sensible and well-liked of the sailors, is selected, and as he prepares to leave, tries to convince Badger to get over his bitterness. During the test, which takes place a few miles offshore, Sterling presses the button to release the torpedo and the result of Vincent's test is repeated: just after leaving its chamber, the torpedo explodes, sinking the sub and killing Haggis and Sterling. The tragedy of the accident and a poignant letter Haggis left for the others, brings them closer together, and Wharton apologizes to Bradville for putting too much faith in Vincent's data. Bradville is certain that DPT is stable and did not cause the explosion, but is sure that he, too, must have missed something. The next day, a message is received from the Admiralty saying that all work on the new torpedo must cease, and the sailors, who have now become close, sadly pack their things. Sprog, the youngest of the group, admits to Lofty that he was afraid of being the one sent to man the sub. That night, Wharton wakes up with an inspiration and does some additional testing on another torpedo. When he looks at the torpedo's rudder, he gets an idea, and a few moments later an explosion is heard. Bradville and the other race to the building and find Wharton on the floor, but all right. Wharton reveals that the submarine test did not work, whereas the dry test did, because they had not accounted for the movements of the torpedo's guiding controls. Bradville soon goes to London to report the findings to the Admiralty, and they agree to allow one more test. Lofty, Sprog and Badger now draw lots to accompany Bradville on the test and Lofty secretly arranges to be chosen. Sprog guesses what has happened, but Lofty stops him from talking. When Herbert comes to get Lofty for the test, his verbal abuse is too much for Lofty, who knocks Herbert out. When Herbert comes to, the American and British sailors all say that Herbert struck Lofty, and Herbert angrily leaves, knowing that the officers would never believe him. Some hours later, after the sailors hear an explosion out at sea, they anxiously wait for news. Sprog guiltily reveals that Lofty rigged the selection, moments before Lofty comes back, happily informing them that the test was a success. A short time later, the British and American crews part as friends as Bradville, Butch and Shorty sail away.
Ernesto De Curtis
A. W. Watkins
Crest of the Wave
Based on a forgotten play by Hugh Hastings (whose filmography is almost entirely, and bizarrely, taken up with the six versions of Seagulls Over Sorrento that were shot between 1954 and 1962 - including TV tapings in West Germany and Finland), the Boultings' movie is set entirely on a tiny Scottish island commandeered by the military during WWII. The outfit's only mission: to perfect a torpedo that can be loaded with a particularly volatile experimental explosive. When we open, one such test has already failed, leaving one soldier dying under gauze in the infirmary. As the stiff-upper-lipped brass wonder what to do next, it's easy to be overwhelmed with the particular character of mid-century British films - they are inordinately quiet experiences, due it seems both to the English propensity to underplay and avoid histrionics of any kind, and to the singular way the British industry handled film sound, i.e., much of their film is post-dubbed, and as with Italian movies the process paid minimal lip service to ambient noise. What isn't post-dubbed is recorded simply, with a single mike.(When a character walks from across the room toward the camera, their voice becomes louder and clearer.) The result is an odd, serene placidity, augmented by the actors' unerring calm.
The small platoon of enlisted men is outlined for us, including a grouchy Cockney (Sidney James) and an anti-authoritarian Everyman (Bernard Lee) with a brewing hatred for the martinet officer above him (Patric Doonan), before the project's ostensible solution lands on the dock: a team of three explosive-expert Americans, comprised of Navy scientist Kelly and two sailor assistants (Fredd Wayne and Jeff Richards, who starred as one of the Pontipee brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that same year). Here, Hastings' play indulges in Brit-Yank culture clash, as both coteries of men mock each other's idioms and eventually discover that Richards' granite-chinned American swell was in fact the same Yank that unknowingly stole a cheap floozie girlfriend away from James' knobby-nosed schlub years before.
The contest of egos between the we-can-do-fine-ourselves Brits and the cut-the-nonsense Americans is explored, too, and Kelly's role is primarily the modest, unmilitary voice of reason amid the barely-raised arguments about glory-hounding and national pride. British films about the war tended for years to be scrupulously undramatic, kept to a low boil, and focused evenly on minutiae - as if the unconscious intention, so tellingly British, was to be calming instead of rousing. Here, of course all of the Allied toilers' differences are leveled out and their brotherhood is established once the next torpedo test ends with an unplanned explosion, killing one of the Brits. Facing failure in the mission, the operation is shut down from headquarters - but at the last second, one of the officers has an epiphany about a hardware glitch, and the day is saved.
As you can tell, the main story of Seagulls Over Sorrento is not quite white knuckle - making its momentary popularity all the more perplexing. Hastings' play, which had no American characters, ran on the London stage for four solid years - contractually postponing the release of the Boultings' film version by a year. Neither the play nor the film met much enthusiasm from American audiences, however - there might be something here that is quintessentially British. Perhaps it's that sense of thoughtful calm, but perhaps it's also the story's small, confining, somewhat idealized setting that makes it a beguiling experience. We watch movies sometimes to go where the movie is, to live there for awhile, especially if the location is secluded and mysterious, evoking childhood memories of exploring. Old mansions, ocean liners, forests, Old World ruins - part of the allure of any film that exploits such places is our nostalgia for being a youngster inhabiting and even ruling over, in our imaginations, tiny ersatz kingdoms. The rocky island of Crest of the Wave - wave-swept, cluttered with ancient fortress walls and recommissioned stone bunkers, small enough to run from one end to the other in 20 minutes - is an ideal matinee getaway, a veritable tree fort. The Boultings don't waste screen time overemphasizing their location - they're nuts-&-bolts filmmakers. But the seduction of the place is ever-present, and you couldn't be blamed for looking at Kelly and the cast not as men at war but as boy-men playing war, on a sunlit atoll they have all to themselves.
By Michael Atkinson
Crest of the Wave
The film's working title was Seagulls Over Sorrento. After the opening cast credits, the following written acknowledgment is presented: "The producers wish to acknowledge with thanks the generous co-operation of the Admiralty and officers and men of Her Majesty's ships and submarines." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was shot on the Channel Islands, British islands off the coast of France. While most scenes were shot on and around the Channel Islands, some interiors appear to have been shot in a studio, most likely at M-G-M's British studios at Boreham Wood, Elstree.
The song "Torna a Sorrento," which is referred to as "Come Back to Sorrento" within the film, is heard in the background throughout the film and played on the concertina by David Orr as "Haggis Mackintosh." According to reviews, because Hugh Hastings' play Seagulls Over Sorrento had been so successful abroad, M-G-M decided to retain that as the release title of Crest of the Wave for all countries outside the United States and Canada. In the play, unlike the film, all of the characters are British. The play, which critics likened to a British Mister Roberts, had a greater emphasis on the enlisted men. Although the play was a large success in London, it had only a two-week run in New York after its September 12, 1952 opening. Bernard Lee, who portrayed "Lofty Turner" in the film, also appeared in the London stage production. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item on December 11, 1952, M-G-M could not release the film in London until after the play completed its run there. The film opened in London in July 1954, several months prior to its American release, but a full year after filming was completed.
Released in United States Summer July 1954
Released in United States Summer July 1954