THE LAST VOYAGE
This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Woody Strode.
The Last Voyage promises "91 minutes of the most intense suspense in motion picture history". To be fair, The Last Voyage does pretty much start with the crisis about to burst open. Oddly, it felt like more than 91 minutes, but that is the smallest of its issues.
The SS Claridon Captain Robert Adams (George Sanders) receives an urgent message while lunching with some passengers, "Fire in the engine room". Charming his way to the engine room, Captain Adams sees that the fire was put out, but the damage to the boiler and its fuel is a powder keg ready to erupt. Adams is concerned but not alarmed.
He does not want to cause panic among the Claridon passengers, including the Hendersons: Cliff (Robert Stack), his wife Laurie (Dorothy Malone) and their daughter Jill (Tammy Marihugh). Laurie is a little trepidatious about sailing altogether, but things come to a head when the Claridon experiences its great crisis. Second Engineer Walsh (Edmund O'Brien) urges Adams to at least stop the ship for a couple of hours to look over the damage, but the captain still thinks the crisis is manageable.
Not until the boiler explodes, ripping the Claridon several stories high. Laurie is trapped beneath the debris, with Jill screaming and crying her way across the sinking ship. Cliff requires torches to get Laurie out, and eventually he gets help from Hank Lawson (Woody Strode), an engine room worker who eventually joins him to save Laurie. The Claridon keeps on sinking, with the bulkhead finally breaking. Adams finally orders the evacuation. With the Claridon on death's door, will this really be The Last Voyage for some?
I give writer/director Andrew L. Stone credit for this: he does not waste time building the situation. We start right away with knowing that there is a fire in the engine room. He does give a bit of a backstory with Cliff, Laurie and Jill, who should be the center of The Last Voyage. They are in love, care about their daughter, and she is a bit worried about the seaworthiness of the Claridon. As this is The Last Voyage, we know that they will face an issue.
Once we get the explosion, The Last Voyage does pick up a bit. We even get a bit of humor when while things are spinning out of control, a woman calmly orders two glasses of sherry. I give credit to Malone, who spent most of The Last Voyage trapped under rubble while still looking pretty good. We also get some good performances from Malone when she is with Strode. As Laurie contemplates suicide given her situation, Strode makes Hank's genuine shock and concern effective. Stack was fine, but nothing great.
Where The Last Voyage went a bit astray is how on many levels, it is not original. You have the ship captain more concerned about keeping to a schedule than on the passenger and crew's safety. You have the gruff second forever warning of the danger. There's the imperiled woman. There is a lot of stock characters that you pretty much expect to pop out. You have the captain who goes down with the ship.
Sometimes the plot points seem to be a bit bizarre. Walsh is forever angry at the captain because his father died on the Titanic. This is mentioned twice, but for some reason O'Brien's delivery made it sound like he was joking. I did think it was some kind of sarcastic quip about why he did not want the Claridon to keep sailing.
As much as I dislike beating up on children, Marihugh's Jill came across as a whiny brat. Yes, the ship is sinking, and her mother is trapped (which is where the drama is supposed to be). Yet one wants to almost spank her for refusing to understand the severity of the situation. Laurie, Cliff and Hank all work desperately to get Jill to safety, and all Jill can do is cry, scream and all but beat up everyone around her.
The worst part of The Last Voyage is the unnecessary voiceovers in a faux Cecil B. DeMille intonation spouting off such grandiose statements as to border on farce. "This was the death of the steamship Claridon," the voice says. "This was The Last Voyage". The film starts and ends with such ponderous, almost laughable voiceover that just intrudes on the goings-on.
On the whole though, The Last Voyage is passable entertainment if you can tolerate Jill.