Friday, September 28, 2018

Movie Review: The Ghost Ship (1943)

The Ghost Ship (1943) directed by Mark Robson

Fresh from school, Tom Merriam (Russell Wade) signs on as third officer on the Altair, a cargo ship. The captain, Will Stone (Richard Dix), takes an immediate liking to Tom, seeing him as a younger version of himself. Both are popular with the crew, though most of the crew are new. Captain Stone shares some odd theories about authority, especially his wide-ranging authority as ship's captain. Tom starts to worry as small events reveal the crumbling sanity of the captain. The situation gets worse when Tom confronts the captain, who shows his true nature. The rest of the crew don't know all the details that Tom does, so they side with the captain. Tom becomes more isolated and vulnerable as the ship sails on. Soon enough, he is fearing for his life.

The movie is particularly effective because of Dix's performance as the captain and how well-written his character is. At first, he seems reasonable and genial, with only hints of oddness. And he does at times try to fight against going crazy, but it's a losing fight. Tom's slow realization is rational and makes sense to viewers. The crew's isolation of Tom also makes sense due to their lack of information that Tom has. The only odd element is the title, which hints at a supernatural presence that is just not there. Famously, producer Val Lewton was often given a title and then expected to come up with a movie based on that. This movie not only had the random title, but also a hand-me-down set from RKO's big-budget feature Pacific Liner. Lewton makes good use of the sets if not the title.


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