Cast & Crew
Peter Van Eyck
In 1916, Lt. Richard Saville of the British Navy receives a five-day leave and boards a train bound from Portsmouth to London. On the train, Saville meets the shy, sheltered Lucinda Bentley, with whom he shares an immediate attraction. Lucy, who has a keen interest in the Navy, agrees to dine with Saville during their stop in Longmire, where they wait for the London train, and the couple spends so much time talking that they miss their train. After checking into a local hotel as man and wife, Lucy and Saville spend the next five days together, and Saville offers to marry Lucy. She turns him down, however, stating that marriage cannot rectify their illicit affair, especially as the cautious Saville does not love her enough to risk endangering his burgeoning career by marrying while still a junior officer. Years later, in 1940, Great Britain is at war with Germany, and Saville, now a captain, is on convoy duty in the Pacific Ocean. Saville's ship, the Stratford is accompanied by smaller cruisers Cambridge and Amesbury . Unknown to Saville, Andrew Brown, a signalman aboard the Amesbury , is his illegitimate son by Lucy. Brown, who was told by Lucy that his father died before he was born, grew up in Canada, and enlisted in the British Navy because of Lucy's great love for it. Brown is also an expert marksman and has won numerous prizes in competition, much to the bemusement of his friends, who feel that he should be a gunner rather than a signalman. Saville receives news that a British cargo ship has been attacked, presumably by the German's most notorious war ship, the Essen , and, due to the Stratford 's fuel shortage, he decides that she should stay with the convoy while Amesbury and Cambridge pick up the British survivors. After sending the two ships on their mission, Saville frets over his decision, and his best friend, Commander John Willis, admits that he would not have played it so safe. In the morning, the Amesbury spots the enemy vessel, which easily outguns the English ship. Realizing that the Cambridge , which was delayed by picking up the British survivors, will not arrive in time to save them, Capt. Tom Ashley, commander of the Amesbury , decides he cannot let the Essen escape undamaged and so charges ahead to launch torpedoes at it. The Essen is badly damaged, and Brown is able to signal a report to the Cambridge before the Amesbury sinks. Brown is then picked up by the Essen and is questioned by her commander, Kapitan Ludvic Von Falk. Brown refuses to supply information about the convoy and is then taken to the infirmary, where he learns that the only other survivor from the Amesbury , boiler stoker Wheatley, has had one of his legs amputated. Back on the Stratford , Saville is apprised of the situation and deduces that the Essen will probably put into a safe cove for repairs and can therefore be attacked if found in time. Despite the fuel shortage, Saville decides to take a chance and pursue the enemy ship, and so sets a course for the nearby Galapagos Islands, which contain several small islands that would be ideal for the Essen 's purposes. Meanwhile, Saville's intuitions prove correct, as Wheatley, who learned German while serving on a German ocean liner before the war, translates Von Falk's speech to his crew and tells Brown that the Essen is putting into a cove for repairs. The Essen sails into the narrow channel of Resolution Island, and Brown realizes that if he can forestall her repairs long enough, the Essen would be unable to manuever in the cove and defend herself if the Stratford arrives in time. Brown discusses his plan with Wheatley, who encourages him even though it will probably result in death for both of them. That night, Brown sneaks out of the infirmary, steals a rifle and ammunition and slips off the ship. Despite being cut up by the rough terrain, the shoeless Brown finds a protected cave in the overlooking cliffs, and when daybreak arrives, begins shooting at the crewmen repairing the ship. Brown succeeds in killing a number of the sailors and terrifying the rest, and after his absence is discovered, Von Falk uses the public address system to urge him to surrender. Although he is suffering terribly from thirst and heat, Brown continues to shoot at the ship, and is able to stall the repairs. Early the following morning, as Brown dozes, a rowboat carrying German sailors reaches the shore, and when Brown resumes shooting, they pinpoint his position and come after him. Brown is wounded during the ensuing gun battle, but before the German sailors kill him, they are summoned back to the ship by a signal that the repairs have been completed. As Brown lays on the ground, afraid that he has failed, he suddenly hears shelling and realizes that the Stratford arrived in time. The Essen is sunk, and after the German survivors are picked up, officer Hesse tells the English sailors about Brown's success in keeping the Essen trapped at Resolution for an extra eighteen hours. Brown is rescued, and several months later, waits with Saville at Buckingham Palace to receive commendations from the king. Saville mentions that he has requested Brown's transfer to the Stratford , and as they ponder their upcoming convoy to North America, Saville states that he would like to meet Brown's mother if they dock in Montreal.
Peter Van Eyck
H.m.s. <i>manxman</i>, H.m.s. <i>cleopatra</i>, H.m.s. <i>glasgow</i>
Commander R. S. Abram D.s.c., R.n. (retired)
Lord Louis Mountbatten
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
Wendy Hiller was born on August 15, 1912, in Bramhall, and raised in Manchester, where her father was a cotton-cloth manufacturer. Educated at Winceby House, a girl's school in Sussex, Hiller found herself drawn to the theater, and after completing secondary school, Wendy joined the Manchester Repertory Theater, where she was a bit player and later an assistant stage manager. In 1934, she earned critical acclaim and stardom when Manchester Rep cast her as the lead in the popular drama, Love on the Dole, written by her future husband, Ronald Gow. The play was such a hit, that Hiller would repeat her role in London and triumphed on Broadway.
Back on the London stage, she was playing the lead in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, when she caught the eye of the playwright himself. He cast her as the beloved cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (contemporary audiences will no doubt be aware of the musical version - My Fair Lady) on stage in 1936 and in Anthony Asquith's screen adaptation two years later co-starring Leslie Howard. The film was a smash, and Hiller earned an Academy Award nomination for her striking and original Eliza. Shaw would cast her again as an heiress turned Salvation Army worker in the classic Major Barbara for both stage and the 1941 film version.
The ensuing years could very well have been Hiller's time for screen stardom, yet despite her blazing acting ability, regal presence and distinctive voice, her film forays were too few, as she concentrated on the stage and spending time with her husband Gow and two children. Still, when she did make a film appearance, it was often memorable: a materialist turned romantic in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's glorious, I Know Where I'm Going! (1945); a lonely hotelkeeper in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables (1958), which earned her an Academy Award as best supporting actress; an obsessive mother in Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (1960); a unfaltering wife to Sir Thomas More in Fred Zinneman's brilliant A Man for All Seasons (1966); and as a compassionate nurse who cares for the deformed David Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980).
Ill health became an issue for Hiller in her later years, but she made one elegant return to the camera when she was cast as a former society beauty who is interviewed 50 years after her fame in Moira Armstrong's The Countess Alice (1992). In a performance that was touching, but never maudlin, Wendy Hiller proved that few could match her for presence, integrity and dignity. Her contribution to her craft did not go unnoticed, as she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975. She is survived by her son, Anthony, and daughter, Ann.
by Michael T. Toole
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
The working titles of this film were Single-Handed and Able Seaman Brown. The picture was released in Great Britain as Single-Handed, which was also the title under which it was reviewed by Variety. Before the picture's opening credits, a written prologue reads: "Dedicated to the Spirit of Her Majesty's Royal Navy and, in particular, to those officers and men of the British Mediterranean Fleet, whose willing help made this film possible." The opening title cards read: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Jeffrey Hunter, Michael Rennie, Wendy Hiller in C. S. Forester's Sailor of the King Based on the novel Brown on Resolution." Before the film begins, the following written statement appears: "'I will be a hero, and confiding in Providence, I will brave every danger.' Horatio Nelson, 1774." Although the onscreen credit reads, "Shot at British Lion Studio, Shepperton," at the time the film was produced, British Lion was using the London Film Studios. Although the main story of Forester's novel takes place during World War I, the film's setting is World War II.
According to a January 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Richard Widmark was under consideration to star. Later 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the picture was shot entirely abroad, with interiors shot at Wembley Studios [as its first feature production since World War II] and the British Lion Studio in Shepperton, England; the island sequences filmed on Malta; and the sea sequences shot on several different British cruisers on manuevers in the Mediterranean. A August 25, 1953 Look pictorial noted that the mine layer H.M.S. Manxman was disguised to look like the German raider Essen and numerous contemporary sources report that the crews of the British vessels appeared in the film as actors. According to an October 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the production was divided up into four different camera units in order to utilize the various locations. Hollywood Reporter news items also reported that Lord Louis Mountbatten "took a keen interest" in the film, on which he served as a technical advisor, and that in addition to the picture's premiere in London, it was shown in Portsmouth and on a battleship commanded by Mountbatten in the Mediterranean.
Reviews for Sailor of the King point out that two endings were shot for the picture, one in which "Brown" dies at the end, and one in which he lives. The version in which "Brown" dies was released in Great Britain, and also included a flashback sequence in which Brown discusses his Navy service with "Lucy," thereby establishing more clearly his relationship to her. In the British version, Lucy goes to Buckingham Palace to receive her son's posthumous Victoria Cross, and there meets "Saville" again, although she does not inform him that Brown was his son. The American version does not include the flashback sequence and ends with Brown's survival and the possibility that Saville and Lucy will meet again in the future. According to the New York Times review, both endings were shown at the Trans-Lux Theatre in New York City, where cards were passed out at the conclusion of the screening to solicit the viewers' preferences.
A September 1953 Variety article reported that for "circuit bookings" in New York, the dual endings would be dropped. Although the article stated that the studio would edit the film so that Brown died, all of the Los Angeles reviews indicate that the version in which he lived was released there. The Los Angeles Times reviewer speculated that the film had been shot "more fully and edited down later for American comsumption," while the New Yorker critic complained: "the story has been provided with two endings, neither of which has any merit."
Forester's novel had previously been filmed in 1935 by Gaumont-British as Brown on Resolution, which was directed by Walter Forde and starred Betty Balfour, John Mills and Barry Mackay. In the 1935 version, the young signalman dies on the island.