Cast & Crew
Yvonne De Carlo
Late one night, in 1800, beleaguered Channel Island fishermen Gilliat and Willie, who have been forced into a life of smuggling because of the raging Napoleonic Wars, are startled when a beautiful woman rows to their Guernsey cove and asks for Lethierry, a local aristocrat. Gilliat insists on escorting the woman to Lethierry's home, unaware that she is an English spy named Drouette. After Drouette and Lethierry discuss details of her mission--to impersonate the Countess de Remuset, now imprisoned in London, and obtain information about the French Navy--Drouette goes to an inn to find Rantaine, Gilliat's business rival, who is to take her to France. Gilliat and Willie are also at the inn and before Drouette can leave with Rantaine, Gilliat brawls with him. After Gilliat knocks Rantaine unconscious, Drouette pays Gilliat to take her to France. Later, at sea, Willie and Gilliat suddenly change course, prompting Drouette to "confess" that she is rescuing her brother from a French prison. Touched by Drouette's story, Gilliat steers his boat back toward France and, upon landing, returns her money. Drouette then appears at the countess' chateau and meets her contact, the butler Ragan. Ragan informs Drouette, who greatly resembles the real countess, that she is to meet with General Latour, the head of the French spy network, as well as Fouche, the crafty chief of police. The next day, as Drouette is touring a hospital with the general, Gilliat spots her and learns that she is the countess. Aware of Latour's position, Gilliat assumes the worst and, just before sailing home with Willie and a cargo of brandy, sneaks into the chateau and abducts Drouette. As they sail toward Guernsey, Gilliat yells at the spy for tricking him and refuses to listen to her explanations. After Gilliat delivers Drouette to Lethierry, Lethierry secretly arranges with Rantaine to ship Drouette, who is due to meet Napoleon the following evening, back to France. Gilliat, meanwhile, begins to feel sorry for Drouette, who he assumes will be hanged, but then sees her departing in Rantaine's boat and swims after it. Gilliat boards and fights Rantaine and his mate, Blasquito, who finally knocks Gilliat out. When Rantaine announces he is going to kill Gilliat, Drouette intercedes, claiming there is a £1,000 reward for Gilliat's capture. Later, Drouette tries to convince the bound Gilliat of her innocence, but he still refuses to listen. Despite Gilliat's anger, Drouette professes her love and kisses him, then jumps overboard and swims to the chateau cove. The next day, Drouette meets Fouche, who has come to check security at the chateau in anticipation of Napoleon's visit. Drouette fools Fouche, until a servant mentions that the entire chateau staff was replaced shortly before the countess' return. Now suspicious, Fouche arranges with the countess' neighbor, Baron de Vaudrec, to dine with Drouette the following day and question her about her past. That evening, Drouette charms Napoleon and eavesdrops when he reveals to his officers his plans for the French fleet. Before Drouette can pass the information to Ragan, the baron arrives and determines that she is an imposter. Fouche locks Drouette up in the chateau dungeon and informs Napoleon, who demands the spy be killed. Ragan, however, has overheard Napoleon's conversation and sends a carrier pigeon message to Lethierre before being shot by Fouche. After receiving the message, Lethierre orders Gilliat, Willie and Rantaine, all of whom he has imprisoned on various charges, to rescue her and sends a coded carrier pigeon reply to Ragan. Lethierre's message, which details Drouette's escape, is intercepted by Fouche, but when he cannot decipher the code, he offers to spare Drouette's life if she unscrambles the message for him. Drouette gives Fouche false information, and Fouche pretends to be deceived, then has her followed when she sneaks away. Gilliat, meanwhile, has disembarked and is questioning his French brandy supplier about Ragan when Rantaine, who has decided to sell information to the French, confronts him at gunpoint. Rantaine ties up Gilliat, but Willie appears and shoots the traitor just as the pursued Drouette finds them. Gilliat and Willie manage to hold off Fouche and his soldiers long enough to escape with Drouette, and they all swim to Gilliat's waiting boat. Later, with their freedom assured, Gilliat and Drouette enjoy a passionate kiss.
Yvonne De Carlo
David E. Rose
David E. Rose
John R. Sloan
R. St. John Roper
The script is loosely inspired by Victor Hugo's novel Toilers of the Sea (which was the film's working title), and is set in the Napoleonic era. Yvonne de Carlo, in a role originally offered to Joan Fontaine, plays an English spy in the year 1800 who falls for a fisherman-turned-smuggler played by Rock Hudson, setting the stage for scenes of derring-do between the English and the French.
The final product got mixed reviews, with The New York Times finding it "flat and pedestrian" but praising Walsh for keeping things moving. Variety gave a positive review, noting "Miss De Carlo particularly glamorous in her low-cut period gowns, which make all her scenes a pleasure. Walsh directs energetically, getting most out of both story values and beautiful locations."
But none of the principals involved seemed especially enthusiastic about this routine film, though they enjoyed working on location in the Channel Islands and Saint-Malo, France. In her memoir, De Carlo related that Walsh, "with his black eyepatch, was in his proper element. Walsh was the type of director who let his actors run free. I liked it fine, and didn't feel hurt when Walsh would end a take with a grunt rather than an accolade. With Rock it was more difficult. He was doing well by this stage of his career but he still wasn't the most secure actor in Hollywood, and he needed direction and personal nudges at times." One morning in France while shooting the landing of some small boats, De Carlo recalled, "a huge wave capsized the boat that was carrying Raoul and the cameraman. The cameras and our director went into the sea. Raoul was severely shaken and had to suspend work for a couple of days to recuperate."
But otherwise, Walsh seemed as interested in off-track betting as he was in directing. And according to her memoir, De Carlo herself seems to have been more engrossed by her burgeoning romance with the international playboy Prince Aly Khan. Khan would often visit her on location and take her for drives along the Normandy coast. One night in Paris, she recalled, the couple walked into a fine restaurant, and as they were seated, the orchestra started playing the theme from Laura (1944); they had mistaken De Carlo for Gene Tierney, who was romantically linked to Khan at the time. "Aly was embarrassed for me," De Carlo wrote. "I assured him I wasn't injured by the mistake -- that I was, in fact, flattered."
According to De Carlo, Aly Khan went on to tell her that he loved Tierney and that "no sex has ever quite come up to ours" -- which was more than De Carlo wanted to know -- and that his father, the Aga Khan, had decreed that he could not marry an actress or he would be cut off. So Prince Aly had reluctantly broken things off with Tierney, but of course things could also not progress much farther with De Carlo. De Carlo wrote that she wasn't especially bothered by this, and that she "settled then for remaining Aly's friend and lover for as long as it was convenient to both of us, happier with it that way because at least I knew where I stood."
Also in the cast of Sea Devils is young Bryan Forbes, an English actor who would soon become a noted writer and director. Forbes and Walsh had struck up a friendship in Los Angeles while making The World in His Arms (1952), in which Forbes had a small role. At that point, Forbes was having a terrible time in Hollywood -- his acting career was going nowhere, and his marriage had failed "in very ugly circumstances," as he put it. So Walsh bought him a one-way ticket back to London as a way of saving his life and giving him a chance to start fresh. Six months later, Walsh was in London to make Sea Devils -- and he had not forgotten his young friend.
As Forbes later wrote, he received a phone call from Walsh, who told him the script wasn't very good, "but I might be able to make something of it." And Walsh had a plan for finagling a plum part for Forbes. "Listen," Walsh said. "You'll get a call from the casting director in a couple of days to come and meet me. Don't shave, speak with an American accent, and you never saw me before."
Forbes did as instructed and went to the audition, where Walsh pretended not to know him. In front of the producer, David E. Rose, Walsh told the casting director that he liked Forbes and wanted him for the part of Willie, Rock Hudson's sidekick. The casting director protested that the part was earmarked for Barry Fitzgerald. "Yeah, well I've had second thoughts," said Walsh. "We've got to get some young blood in this epic. We're starting Rock Hudson, so we don't want to pitch him against a lot of old Irish ham cut straight from the bone. Let's cast the kid here instead."
Rose and the casting director were stunned. Walsh was offering the role to a young kid instead of the established Barry Fitzgerald, without even negotiating a price. Walsh turned to Forbes and asked if he was available. Forbes took his cue and said, "As a matter of fact I am considering a couple of other offers." (In his memoir, Forbes said that in reality, "Before [Walsh's] call I had been considering slitting my wrists in a warm bath.") When Rose protested that Willie was meant to be an older man, Walsh replied, "Then let's rewrite it." In fact, Walsh proceeded to convince Rose to let Forbes rewrite the part himself, thereby ensuring an even greater payment to his young friend!
Forbes later wrote: "The finished film now...reminds me both of happy times and, less agreeably, my ludicrous performance in a fairly ludicrous film."
Forbes also claimed that Rock Hudson told him during filming that he was in love with Forbes. "I told him it was very flattering but I did not swing that way," Forbes said. Overall, Forbes greatly liked Hudson: "He was a fun, totally engaging character, devoid of any pretensions, absurdly good-looking and a great companion. I always admire the way in which, starting from scratch, with no training as such, he slowly fashioned a spectacular career."
Forbes and Raoul Walsh stayed in close touch over the years. The last time they saw each other was near the end of Walsh's life. Walsh, now blind in both eyes, sat in his chair and said, "Didn't we have fun?" Forbes wrote: "It was an epitaph for the days the locusts had eaten, said without bitterness by a blind buccaneer who, to the end, was a man for all seasons, a true friend I shall never forget."
By Jeremy Arnold
Yvonne de Carlo with Doug Warren, Yvonne: An Autobiography
Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life
Bryan Forbes, Notes For a Life
Marilyn Ann Moss, Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director
The working title of this film was Toilers of the Sea. Although not mentioned in the onscreen credits, some contemporary sources list Victor Hugo's novel Les Travailleurs de la mer (Toilers of the Sea) as a source for the story. Opening credits conclude with the following written statement: "Guernsey in the Channel Islands near the coast of France in the year 1800, where fishermen, prevented by war from following their usual livelihood, turned to other occupations..." According to reviews and news items, most of the film was shot in and around the Channel Islands. Coronado borrowed Yvonne de Carlo from Universal for the production. Producer David E. Rose was managing director and chairman of the board of Coronado, a British company based in both England and the U.S. Modern sources credit Keith Pyott in the role of "General Latour."
Other films based on or inspired by Hugo's novel include the 1918 silent picture Les Travailleurs de la mer, directed by André Antoine and starring Romauld Joubé and Armand Tallier; the 1923 Selznick release Toilers of the Sea, directed by R. William Neill and starring Lucy Fox and Holmes Herbert (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30); and the 1936 British film, also titled Toilers of the Sea, directed by Selwyn Jepson and Ted Fox and starring Cyril McLaglen and Mary Lawson.