Sea Wife


1h 22m 1957
Sea Wife

Brief Synopsis

In 1942, a cargo ship jammed with British evacuees from Singapore is sunk by a Japanese sub. A small lifeboat carries a beautiful woman, an army officer, a bigoted administrator, and a black seaman. Only the seaman knows the woman is a nun. The men reveal their true selves under the hardships of survival. Told in a too-long flashback frame.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1957
Premiere Information
London opening: 30 Apr 1957
Production Company
Alma Productions, Inc.; Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
London, England, Great Britain; Jamaica
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Sea-Wyf by J. M. Scott (New York, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

A man stands alone, lost in thought, on the deck of an ocean liner bound for Dover, England. He then decisively proceeds to the ship's radio office to send an urgent telegram, directing a London newspaper to place an advertisement in the personal column asking "Sea Wife to get in touch with Biscuit." The man, Biscuit, anxiously awaits a reply, and when none is forthcoming, places a barrage of messages to the elusive Sea Wife. One day, in Dover, Biscuit receives a letter written by a man named Bulldog, who asks him to come to see him at the Ely Retreat and Mental Home. Biscuit hurries to the home and finds Bulldog ill, the victim of a nervous breakdown. When Biscuit informs Bulldog that he is determined to find Sea Wife, Bulldog advises him to forget the whole incident, then begins to babble incoherently about "a girl, a Negro and a knife." Bulldog's ravings take Biscuit back in time to 1942, and the Singapore harbor: With the city under siege from the Japanese, its British residents scramble aboard an overcrowded steamer, their last chance to reach the safety of home. Among the passengers are an RAF officer and a ruthless businessman, who considers displacing a nun and her young charges so that he can have a cabin of his own. Soon after setting sail, the ship is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. As the mortally damaged ship begins to list, the women and children are loaded into the too few lifeboats, and the businessman demands that he be granted a seat also. A small girl clinging to the nun for life pulls off the nun's habit before disappearing into the boat below. When the order comes to abandon ship, the RAF officer spots a small rubber raft bobbing in the water and dives for it. As he swims toward the raft, he rescues the nun and pulls her to safety. The businessman also sees the raft, and clings tenaciously to its side, thus earning the name "Bulldog." As the ship explodes into flames, the black purser is the last to climb aboard the raft, and so is dubbed "Number Four." With the sun mercilessly beating down on them, the RAF officer doles out the precious reserves of water and biscuits, thus earning the moniker "Biscuit." When Number Four comments that the woman swims like a "Sea Wife," they christen her Sea Wife. Several days later, their supplies begin to run dangerously low and Bulldog proposes killing one of the group for nourishment. Just then, a Japanese submarine surfaces, but the enemy refuses to replenish their supplies until Number Four says something in Japanese that causes them to relent. Sea Wife understands his words, and the next day asks Number Four to keep her secret that she is a nun. Later, when Biscuit wistfully asks Sea Wife to come see the cherry blossoms with him in London after they are rescued, she refuses, and when he asks if he has a rival, she replies yes. Soon after, a wave nearly capsizes their raft, washing their supplies overboard. Desperate for food, Bulldog stuns a seabird with a blow from his oar, and is about to strangle it when Sea Wife accuses them all of acting like savages and declares that the bird means land is near. The next morning, they spot land, but a swift moving current tosses their raft into the rocks, puncturing it. As Biscuit and Sea Wife forage for shellfish, Biscuit confides that his name is Michael and asks her Christian name, but she demurs. When Number Four finds a discarded machete, Biscuit recalls seeing land ten to fifteen miles north and proposes building a raft to reach it. After Number Four refuses to relinquish his machete, Bulldog, brimming with paranoia and prejudice, believes that he plans to use the knife against them. Knowing that they must catch the current at the full moon, they hurry to construct a seaworthy vessel. When the raft is finally completed, Biscuit confesses to Sea Wife that he has fallen in love with her, but she replies she is pledged to someone else. As they prepare to sail, Number Four discovers that his knife is missing and begins to search for it. In Number Four's absence, Bulldog lures the others onto the raft and then pushes off, leaving Number Four behind. When Biscuit struggles to stop Bulldog, Bulldog strikes him with an oar, thus rendering him unconscious for the rest of the journey. Seeing them sail away, Number Four swims after them, and they watch in horror as a shark attacks and kills him. That night, while Sea Wife prays for God's mercy, Bulldog babbles that a "knife and a Negro equals danger." Shortly after, they spot a ship on the horizon and are rescued. Biscuit's thoughts then return to the present, and he tells Bulldog that although he suffered from amnesia for several months after their rescue, he still loves Sea Wife and must find her. Bulldog then informs him that she died aboard their rescue ship, uttering with her last words, "tell Biscuit I loved him." Heartbroken, Biscuit leaves the hospital and passes two nuns walking along the path. One, Sea Wife, turns to look at him, but he fails to recognize her.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1957
Premiere Information
London opening: 30 Apr 1957
Production Company
Alma Productions, Inc.; Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
London, England, Great Britain; Jamaica
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Sea-Wyf by J. M. Scott (New York, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Sea Wife


In 1942, a cargo ship jammed with British evacuees from Singapore is sunk by a Japanese sub. A small lifeboat carries a beautiful woman, an army officer, a bigoted administrator, and a black seaman. Only the seaman knows the woman is a nun. The men reveal their true selves under the hardships of survival.
Sea Wife

Sea Wife

In 1942, a cargo ship jammed with British evacuees from Singapore is sunk by a Japanese sub. A small lifeboat carries a beautiful woman, an army officer, a bigoted administrator, and a black seaman. Only the seaman knows the woman is a nun. The men reveal their true selves under the hardships of survival.

Quotes

Trivia

Director Bob McNaught, working as the Associate Producer, replaced Roberto Rossellini as the director. A press release stated..."but Rossellini decided at almost the last minute that "Sea Wife" was not his cup of minestrone." Not the first nor last time a director quit a film, but one of the few instances where the production company used it as a publicity story.

Notes

The order of the opening onscreen cast credits differs slightly from that of the closing credits. In the opening credits, Cy Grant's name appears last, accompanied by the phrase "and introducing." According to a June 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Roberto Rossellini was originally to direct the picture but ran into problems with the PCA. Materials contained in the film's MPAA/PCA file at the AMPAS Library reveal that Rossellini wrote a script with Bruce Marshall that was unacceptable to the PCA because of its portrayal of the nun. In particular, the PCA objected to a scene in which the nun was shown swimming naked, thus resulting in the "exploition of the physical beauty of the nun's body," a depiction that would offend the Catholic Church. In addition, the PCA disapproved of the nun exhibiting a romantic interest in "Biscuit," and the fact that the ending was ambigious about whether the nun returned to her convent or renounced her religion for "Biscuit."
       According to the PCA file, Richard Burton, the film's star, disliked the Marshall/Rossellini script so much that he refused to appear in it. When that script was rejected, Rossellini bowed out of the project and was replaced by Bob McNaught, according to the June 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item. In addition to the Rossellini script, the PCA files contain a reference to a script written by Nigel Balchen, but the extent of Balchen's contribution to the final film is not known. The film was shot on location in Jamaica and interiors were filmed in London.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer August 1957

CinemaScope

Released in United States Summer August 1957