Somewhere between the endless Titanic films and my personal favourite Poseidon Adventure’s, in 1960 came a very underrated but frankly stunning boat disaster. The Last Voyage is a 60’s version of a cinematic popcorn explosion flick. However in taking itself seriously and going for a more documentary like approach, it is easily in my top 5 boating films and deserves to be recognised.
Release Date: 1960
Runtime: 87 minutes
When a boiler room explodes on the S.S. Claridon causing a massive tear in the ship, the race is on to save the passengers and get off the ship before it sinks – something that the captain is certain will never happen.
The Disasters Faced
Explosions, fire, a lot of sheet metal, water and a sinking ship. Add in soggy wooden planks, steam and a suicidal wife and you’ve got a great concoction.
The Last Voyage spends no time in getting going. It starts with a fire in the engine room which causes problems elsewhere as we are introduced to the main characters. It’s a small cast and some of them don’t even get a name. Whilst this may seem strange, The Last Voyage is almost a prelude to the real time disaster account retelling shows. It feels like it’s moving almost in real time and so names and pleasantries fall by the way side when you are trying to save your wife or the ship itself. The two stories of the family trapped in a room and a ship quickly falling apart interweave and the narrative shows just how quickly people need to act under pressure and the consequences of the captains actions alter the paths of each of these stories as they conflict. It’s a fascinating piece of story telling the rinses everything it can out of it during 87 minutes of pyrotechnics.
One of the beauties of the film is its reliance of clever tricks of the eye and set design. Wide shots are used sparingly to fit in with the almost documentary style of delivery. Instead you see water pouring in and surging sets almost in the background to the main characters. The set design is amazing – especially when they stretch several stories high and people are chucking timbre beams down them. The ships sinking is also handled really impressively without ever having cut away shots to show just destruction – it’s there for a reason.
Why It’s Worth Watching
Firstly, it’s a tight film with no filler. The cast are sublime as they are as much reacting to what’s going on as delivering the script. Robert Stack is great as the suave male lead and Woody Strode spends the entire film oiled up topless trying to bash his way off the boat. Dorothy Malone spends most of the film trapped and taking a darker path of wanting to end her own life to save her family and indeed her hopelessness envelopes the film and the inner panic in her eyes. It is also fascinating to watch a Captain get it so very wrong and have his moves questioned at every turn. As the constant sound of smashing glass and creaking wood gets louder, he holds less grip on reality. Speaking of the sound, it’s worthy of note that one of the characters narrates the movie at key points as he describes the death of the ship like the death of a human. There is also absolutely no score. Every sound is from the ship and the actors themselves and that helps keep the serious, panicked tone.
The Drinking Game
Each time Dorothy Malone screams or does a mini panicked cry. I hope she got paid per “argh!”
Whilst Third Officer Osbourne (George Furness – who is the narrator) is cracking in his pure Britishness, Tammy Marihugh gives an absolutely stonking performance as Jill, the scared child of the lead couple. She cries, screams, get’s thrown around and has plenty of adorably heart wrenching temper tantrums as she doesn’t want to be separated from her parents.
For a film that holds up against the test of time very well, there’s a funny one liner where a crew member barges passed an old man who quips “beat generation!!!” Also, another boat movie – another piano sliding to its demise shot! Gotta love em!
In a genuinely awesome fact, the ship used to film The Last Voyage was the SS Ile De France – the first ship to have arrived at the sinking Andrea Doria just 4 years earlier in 1956. It was instrumental in saving plenty of lives when the Andrea Doria collided with another ship and sank. However, it’s rumoured that when the ship was used for a sinking film, the owners asked for any trace of Ile De France to be removed and so S.S. Claridon was born.
A fantastic film from start to end – it’s extremely difficult to fault. It moves at a pace, it’s very well acted and the movie itself is beautifully shot with lots of attention to detail. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do so if you are a disaster movie fan. This so well overdue a blu-ray remastering and a bit of love.