Cast & Crew
In 1812, the Olive Branch , an American merchant ship owned by Captain Dorman, is returning home from an extended stay in the Far East when the crew abruptly discovers that their country is at war with England after the British brig piloted by Lieutenant Strope fires upon them. In the shelling, Dorman is killed and his daughter Corunna vows vengeance on the British. When her sweetheart, sailor Dan Marvin counsels caution instead, she contemptuously dubs him Captain Caution. Corunna and her crew are taken prisoner aboard the British ship, where they meet Lucien Argandeau, his wife Victorine and Slade, a slave trader, who are also prisoners of the British. When the British ship falls under attack, the prisoners rebel and, after overpowering their British captors, regain control of the Olive Branch . Once aboard the ship, Corunna appoints the brash Slade first mate and orders the ship to France, where she seeks papers from the American Consul that would commission the ship to fight against the British and enable her to avenge the death of her father. Upon docking in France, Slade betrays Corunna by making a deal with the British to capture the ship and turn it over to him. While Corunna meets ashore with the American Consul, the British board the ship and sail away with its crew. Afterward, the distraught Corunna meets Slade, who tells her that Marvin turned the ship over to the English and convinces her to sail away with him. Meanwhile, Marvin and the crew are held prisoner aboard a British ship, where he devises an escape plan. While Marvin distracts the soldiers by fighting a boxing match with a brute, the crew escape and commandeer a pleasure yacht. Marvin then convinces the British commander to sail the yacht after Corunna and the Olive Branch . Corunna discovers Slade's treachery when he fires upon the unarmed yacht, but Marvin remains undeterred, and in a scathing sea battle, he and his men take control of the ship. With Slade brought to justice, Corunna discovers her misjudgment of Marvin, and the lovers sail for home.
Clifford Severn Jr.
Charles D. Hall
Elmer A. Raguse
W. L. Stevens
Produced in 1940 for Hal Roach Studios, Captain Caution was a budget-minded response to the success of Captain Blood (1935) and its 1940 follow-up The Sea Hawk. Roach had built his studio on silent comedies, starting with a series of shorts starring Harold Lloyd and growing to include Will Rogers, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, the long-running "Our Gang" shorts, and the fortuitous (and extremely profitable pairing) of two longtime silent comics who became legendary as the team Laurel and Hardy.
With the coming of sound, he focused more on features than shorts and expanded his repertoire, adding low-budget adventures to his slate of comedies. Captain Caution, based on the Kenneth Roberts novel "Captain Caution, A Chronicle of Arundel," was the third of such projects. The film plays on the history of sailors and ships who aided the American Navy in the War of 1812 by serving as privateers, a mix of private contractor and pirate preying upon enemy ships with the blessing of the government. Like the earlier One Million B.C. (1940), the spectacle of sea battles were created with special effects, specifically detailed miniatures in a tank, while the sailor brawls and boarding raids play out on sets safely on dry land.
With no stars left in his stable by 1940, Roach groomed his own leading man. Captain Caution became a vehicle for young beefcake actor Victor Mature, who made his debut in the Roach comedy The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939) and was promoted to leading man in One Million B.C., the legendary caveman adventure featuring Mature as a prehistoric warrior in animal skins battling dinosaurs. Dan is branded with the "Captain Caution" nickname by a bitter Corunna, but caution aside, Mature was definitely cast for his beefy physique and he gets to brawl with the best of them as a two-fisted American patriot.
Broadway actress Louise Platt, who plays Corunna, was not a film star but made an impression as the proper, cultured southern lady on her way to meet her cavalry officer husband in John Ford's Stagecoach in 1939. Captain Caution was one of her last features before leaving Hollywood to return to the stage, but she came back to the screen in a number of television dramas in the 1950s, including "Dip in the Pool," an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Hitchcock himself.
Filling out the cast is a roster of colorful character actors. The spirited Leo Carrillo, usually relegated to outsized Latino roles and Mexican characters (including Pancho in the fifties TV series The Cisco Kid), plays the French Canadian Lucien with a flamboyant accent and plenty of comic commentary. Former vaudeville comic El Brendel brings his smiling Swede schtick to the role of the ship's resident character and troubadour with his heavy dialect and broken English. Completing the rainbow coalition of international character types is J. Pat O'Malley, who made the jump from British music hall singer to recording artist to actor in a small bit as a fish peddler. It was the first of over two hundred movie, TV, and stage roles for the popular character actor, including memorable voices in such Disney features as Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, and The Jungle Book.
Burly Bruce Cabot, who plays a war profiteer posing as a patriot, made his fame as the heroic first mate in King Kong (1933). And you can spot Alan Ladd in a small but memorable role as a desperate, wild-eyed prisoner who goes mad with revenge in the final act. In just a couple of years, Ladd would break out of bit parts and supporting roles with This Gun for Hire (1942) and become one of the biggest stars of the 1940s.
The film earned an Oscar® nomination for Best Sound.
Producer: Grover Jones, Hal Roach, Richard Wallace
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: Grover Jones, Kenneth Roberts (novel)
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: James Newcomb
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall, Nicolai Remisoff
Music: Phil Ohman
Cast: Victor Mature (Daniel Marvin), Louise Platt (Corunna Dorman), Leo Carillo (Lucien Argandeau), Bruce Cabot (Lehrman Slade), Robert Barrat (Capt. Dorman), Vivienne Osborne (Victorine Argandeau).
by Sean Axmaker
"A Word of 'Captain Caution'," John A. Tures. "The War of 1912 Magazine," Issue 14, October 2010.
Louise Platt, 1915-2003
She was born on August 3, 1915 in Stanford, Connecticut. Her father was a Navy doctor who relocated to Annapolis, Maryland when she was a toddler. An early interest in school dramatics eventually led her to theater as a profession, and she made her Broadway debut in 1936 in a Philip Barry play, Spring Dance.
Platt made the move to Hollywood two years later, and although her film career was short (1938-1942), her keen intelligence in a variety of parts left a very pleasant impression on the silver screen. She was an effective romantic lead opposite Henry Fonda in Henry Hathaway's Spawn of the North (1938); held her own in a star-studded cast that included John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor, in John Ford's brilliant Stagecoach (1939); displayed a deft comic touch alongside Melvyn Douglas in Leslie Fenton's minor mystery gem Tell No Tales (1939); led a battleship into war (really) in Richard Wallace's cultish adventure yarn Captain Caution (1940); and showed some striking allure as a femme fatale in Jack Hively's noirish thriller Street of Chance (1942).
Despite her uniformly excellent performances in these films, Platt returned to Broadway, where her star shone brightly in the '40s when she landed the leads in such plays as Johnny Belinda and Anne of a Thousand Days. Platt would make some guest appearances on a few television shows in the '50s, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Naked City, and a regular role in the popular soap opera The Guiding Light, before returning to the stage for the remainder of her career. She is survived by two daughters and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Louise Platt, 1915-2003
According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, Hal Roach originally wanted John Wayne to play the part of "Dan Marvin." The picture was nominated for an Academy Award in the Sound Recording category. According to a modern source, footage from the film was used in the 1950 film Two Lost Worlds.