Action in the North Atlantic

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Action in the North Atlantic
Action in the North Atlantic - 1943 - poster.png
1943 Movie Poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Byron Haskin
Raoul Walsh
Produced by Jerry Wald[1]
Written by John Howard Lawson
Guy Gilpatric (story)
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Raymond Massey
Music by Adolph Deutsch
George Lipschultz (uncredited)
Cinematography Ted D. McCord
Edited by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • May 21, 1943 (1943-05-21)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.6 million[2][3]

Action in the North Atlantic is a 1943 American war film directed by Lloyd Bacon, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Raymond Massey as sailors in the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II.[4]


An American oil tanker mastered by Capt. Steve Jarvis (Raymond Massey) is sunk in the north Atlantic Ocean by a German U-boat. He and the first officer, his friend Joe Rossi (Humphrey Bogart), make it to a lifeboat along with other crewmen. When the U-boat crew starts filming their plight they respond with rude gestures and are rammed. The men swim to a raft and are rescued after 11 days adrift.

During their brief liberty, Steve spends time with his wife Sarah (Ruth Gordon), while Joe meets and marries singer Pearl O'Neill (Julie Bishop). The film cuts to the union hall where merchant seamen—including the survivors of Jarvis' last ship—spend their time waiting to be assigned to a new ship. Over a round of poker, Johnnie Pulaski (Dane Clark) jokes about getting a shore job. When pressed by other seaman, Pulaski reveals his fear of dying at sea. The others shame him into signing along with them for another ship. Another sailor, Alfred "Boats" O'Hara (Alan Hale, Sr.), is tracked down by his wife, whom he's apparently not seen since being rescued. She angrily serves him with a summons. O'Hara, knowing he's headed back to sea, gleefully tears the summons up, saying "them 'Liberty Ships' are well named." Then it is back to sea on a new Liberty ship, the SS Seawitch, on a convoy carrying vital war supplies to the Soviet port of Murmansk.[1]

Convoy 211 is attacked by a wolfpack, a group of German U-boats that hunt for convoys. There are losses on both sides, but the convoy commander is forced to order his ships to disperse. One persistent U-boat chases after the Seawitch, but cannot get close because of the ship's guns. During the night, The Seawitch eludes the sub by shutting down its engines to prevent sonar detection. The U-boat contacts the Luftwaffe, and the next day, a pair of Heinkel He 59 seaplanes find the freighter and attack. Several seamen are killed and Steve is shot in the leg, before both planes are shot down, the second plane crashing into the bow. Joe takes command. The U-boat sights the ship again and hits her with a torpedo. Joe orders the men to set fires and make smoke so that it appears as if the ship is sinking. When the submarine surfaces to finish her off, the Seawitch rams and sinks it. A squadron of Russian planes escorts the Seawitch, with its valuable cargo intact, into Murmansk to a warm Russian welcome.



Warner Brothers' working title for the film was Heroes Without Uniforms, intended to be a two-reel documentary about the Merchant Marine. As the war continued, much combat action footage became available and the project was changed to a feature film with Edward G. Robinson and George Raft initially cast in the starring roles. Technical adviser Richard Sullivan was a 23-year-old Merchant Marine cadet who survived the sinking of his ship by a U-boat. Because war restrictions did not permit filming at sea, the film was shot entirely on Warner Brothers studio sound stages and back lots. According to Bill Collins Presents the Golden Years of Hollywood, the ships sets were built in halves on two sound stages, with the tanker sinking sequence shot first.

Director Lloyd Bacon's contract with Warner Brothers expired during production. Jack L. Warner wanted to wait until the film was finished before entering discussions about a new contract, but Bacon wasn't willing to continue without one. Warner fired him and brought in Byron Haskin to complete filming, which ran 45 days over schedule.

According to a news item in the Hollywood Reporter on June 24, 1943, copies of Action in the North Atlantic were provided to the Merchant Marine schools for use in training when the War Shipping Administration judged that technical and educational material in the film would "aid considerably the training program." The studio donated three prints for official use at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and at cadet basic schools in San Mateo, California, and Pass Christian, Mississippi.

This film has a famous back-story; watching their stunt men performing a dive off a burning ship, Bogie and Massey, both a bit intoxicated (being 'off-duty'), started making bets on which stunt man was thing led to another, until the stars, themselves, made the dive.

Authentic models of German and Soviet airplanes were used in the film, and all dialogue involving non-Americans was in the native tongue of the speaker, both rarities in movies of this era.


The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing (Best Original Story).[5]


  1. ^ a b John Walker, ed. (1994). "A". Halliwells Film Guide (10th edition). Harper Collins. p. 7. ISBN 0-00-638389-0. 
  2. ^ Thomas Schatz, Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s Uni of California Press, 1999 p 218
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
  4. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-498-06928-4. 
  5. ^ "Nominations - 1944". Academy Awards. 

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