Kamis, 19 Mei 2011
Bob McNaught - Sea Wife (1957)
Shot in magnificent Technicolor Cinemascope, Sea Wife is one of those turgid and morose melodramas that were inexplicably popular in the post-Second World War period. Set in the south Pacific during the height of the war’s hostilities, the film looks at the tortuous relationships among an implausible cross-section of race, class and gender as four characters are set adrift in a lifeboat after their ship is sunk by the Japanese off the coast of Singapore in 1942.
As the film spends most of its running time in this lifeboat, much of the movie’s success depends on the ability of the actors to convince us of the authenticity of the situation. And while Basil Sydney and Cy Grant give it the old college try, and Richard Burton and Joan Collins are certainly appealing and attractive screen presences, the situations are so consistently convoluted (look! Sharks!) and the drama so blatantly manufactured (okay, for reasons we’ll keep to ourselves, the nun won’t tell anyone she’s a nun, even when the really hot guy starts hitting on her) and telescoped by clumsy foreshadowing, that even a teaming of Tracy and Hepburn or Gable and Lombard would have been hard pressed to elevate Sea Wife to the realm of watchability. Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat this ain’t.
I imagine that the idea of casting Collins against type as a devout nun must, in theory at least, have held some appeal to the filmmakers, but the effect is decidedly detrimental to the film. The results of this experiment clearly reveal that, as an actress, Collins makes a lovely pin up. However, by highlighting Collins’ thespian limitations, we are almost spared the realization that Sea Wife is a terribly cheesy film, beset by lacklustre set pieces, unconvincing – bordering on laughable – special effects, as well as tedious and shop-worn narrative conventions, the most annoying being the decision to never refer to each other by their real names, but using castaway nicknames, such as Bulldog, Number 4, Biscuit and Sea Wife, in their stead (bonus points to those of you able to figure out who of the leads plays which character.)
Further damaging the audience’s ability to slip into the film’s world is the hokey old-fashioned conflict between the pious platitudes of the saintly Collins character and her shipwrecked nemesis played by journeyman character actor Sydney. Sea Wife’s blind faith in the face of every adversity is meant to appear honourable, but instead comes off as foolish, whereas the gruff cynicism Bulldog is tossed aside as cruel (he is, after all, a vicious racist) but comes off as far more realistic given the characters’ dire straits.
Finally, bookending the film with Biscuit’s later attempts to contact Sea Wife through personal ads in London newspapers causes the film to drag on long after our attention has gone on permanent vacation and our patience has been tried and found wanting. I suppose that it finally leads us to the film’s flaccid and pathetic denouement we can consider one of life’s small mercies.
Sea Wife, originally scheduled to be directed by the great Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, pretty much drove the final nail in the coffin of director Bob McNaught’s career, whose only previous directorial effort was Grand National Night, a thriller set in the world of racehorses, and whose only subsequent film was the biblical tale, A Story of David. Given the general level of directorial incompetence on display throughout Sea Wife, I don’t suppose we should be surprised that these films have long ago drifted away to a deserted island of cinematic oblivion.