Sailor of the King
US release poster with overseas market name, Sailor of the King.
|Directed by||Roy Boulting|
|Produced by||Frank McCarthy|
|Written by||C. S. Forester (novel)
Peter van Eyck
|Music by||Clifton Parker|
Single-Handed is a 1953 war film based on the novel Brown on Resolution by C. S. Forester and (despite being largely set in the Pacific) filmed in the Mediterranean Sea. Jeffrey Hunter stars as a Canadian sailor serving on a British warship who battles single-handedly to delay a German World War II warship long enough for the Royal Navy to bring it to battle. The film was released in the United States as Sailor of the King.
During the First World War, Lieutenant Richard Saville, a young British naval officer on five days leave, and Miss Lucinda Bentley, a merchant's daughter from Portsmouth, get talking on the train up to London. Halfway along their journey, they miss their rail connection and spend a romantic holiday in the countryside of southern England. When Saville proposes to her, she accepts, but on the day they are due to go back to Portsmouth, she changes her mind, asking Saville to realise that neither he nor she could bear being parted for the long periods he would be at sea. They part, seemingly forever.
Saville serves out the First World War and the inter-war years, and by the first years of the Second World War, he is in command of a squadron of three cruisers on convoy duty in the Pacific. He receives a message from a British merchantman just before it is sunk by the German raider Essen, but HMS Stratford, the flagship of Saville's squadron is too low on fuel for pursuit and the convoy cannot be left unguarded. Saville decides to remain with the convoy while his other two ships - HMS Amesbury and HMS Cambridge - chase after the raider. Cambridge then has to stop to pick up survivors from the merchantman, leaving the Amesbury on her own. Amesbury finds and attacks the Essen, scoring a major torpedo hit on the Essen’s bow, but is sunk with the loss of all but two hands, Petty Officer Wheatley and Signalman Andrew 'Canada' Brown. Brown is the son of a mother keen on the navy and thus knows more about naval tactics, strategy and gunnery than most of his rank.
The Essen picks up the two survivors. Meanwhile, news of the Amesbury’s fate reaches Saville in the Stratford. Saville decides to risk all and go after the Essen with Cambridge. While the Essen is anchored in a rocky lagoon for 36 hours to carry out repairs, Brown manages to escape to the heights around the lagoon with a rifle (back home, he had won marksmanship prizes). He then proceeds to pick off sailors working on the repairs, leading the Essen’s captain to use his ship's AA guns and then big guns in vain attempts to dislodge Brown. Finally he sends a party of marines out to hunt Brown down, but just as they are about to kill him, they are recalled and the Essen departs. Brown collapses, seriously wounded.
As the Essen leaves the lagoon, she is caught and sunk by Saville's force. One of her survivors informs the British of Brown's exploits, which delayed repairs for 18 hours, thus enabling the British to catch up with them. A landing party is sent ashore from Saville's force to find Brown.
The film is unusual for its period in that, for the American version, two different endings were filmed, one in which Brown survives and another in which he is killed. These were both shown in cinemas and audiences were asked to choose their favourite one. Both endings are also shown when the film is broadcast on British television (e.g. FilmFour).
The landing party searches the island for Brown, as the camera pans to his apparently dead body. The action then cuts to London and an honours investiture, where Saville receives a knighthood for his actions. Brown was found dead by the landing party and is awarded a Victoria Cross posthumously, presented to his mother. She is revealed to be the former Lucinda Bentley, who had moved to Canada after her tryst with Saville. She and Saville meet before she goes to accept her son's medal.
The action cuts straight from the German survivor to an honours investiture in London, where Brown (who has in this version survived to receive his VC) meets Saville. Brown tells Saville that his English mother - to whom he owes his joining the navy - is living in Montreal and unable to make it to the ceremony (though whether or not she is Lucinda is not revealed). Saville informs Brown that he is to be his signaller on their next posting, on the north Atlantic convoy routes. They will both probably get a chance to see his mother in Canada. The pair then stand to attention as the national anthem plays.
Differences from the novel
In the novel, Albert (sic) Brown is the illegitimate son of Agatha Brown and Lieut-Commander R.E.S. Saville-Samarez, following a brief and (for the middle-class woman) totally out of character liaison. Agatha brings up her son before dying of cancer when he is 14. Saville-Samarez remembers the affair only as a pleasant encounter and has no idea of its outcome. The sinking of the German raider is the "great day" in the officer's naval career but he never learns of his son's existence or how Brown's sacrifice made the destruction of the Ziethen possible.
In the film, Lucinda initially has a different surname, Bentley. It is thus implied that she later married a man named Brown. Andrew states "my father died before I was born." Thus, it is possible either that Andrew is Lucinda's legitimate son by her marriage, or (though this is never explicitly stated) that he may in fact be Saville's son. In the novel Brown dies without knowing that his actions have secured the destruction of the German ship.
The novel had previously been filmed in 1935 under the original title Brown on Resolution. The earlier film had naturally retained the First World War setting of the actions against the German raider. In this 1953 remake, the story is transferred to the Second World War; the gap between the affair and these events is thus moved to 24 years between 1916 and 1940. This is remarkably appropriate, as World War II produced a number of examples of convoy escorts accepting battle against heavier German commerce raiders, such as Graf Spee, Scharnhorst and Admiral Hipper in order to allow their convoys to scatter and escape.
- Jeffrey Hunter as Signalman Andrew 'Canada' Brown
- Michael Rennie as Lieutenant / Captain Richard Saville
- Peter van Eyck as Kapitan Ludwig von Falk
- Wendy Hiller as Lucinda Bentley
- Bernard Lee as Petty Officer Wheatley
- Victor Maddern as Signalman Willy Earnshaw
- John Horsley as Commander John Willis
- Patrick Barr as Captain Tom Ashley, HMS Amesbury
- Robin Bailey as Lieutenant John Stafford, HMS Stratford
- James Copeland as Chief Engineer [uncredited]
- Sam Kydd as second signalman [uncredited]
- Lowell Gilmore as Emissary of the King [only USA version, uncredited]
- The officers and men of HMS Manxman, HMS Cleopatra, and HMS Glasgow.
The Dido class cruiser HMS Cleopatra plays both the fictional Royal Navy ships "HMS Amesbury" and "HMS Stratford". As "Amesbury" she is sunk by the more powerful German raider "Essen", and as "Stratford" she triumphs at the end of the story. HMS Cleopatra herself had a distinguished war record, as she was Admiral Vian's flagship at the Second Battle of Sirte, when she was one of four light-cruisers which beat off the Italian battleship Littorio and two powerful heavy cruisers in one of the best cruiser actions of the war. The film's battle sequences depict this light-cruiser firing her guns and torpedoes in some detail.
The raider "Essen" is portrayed by HMS Manxman, a fast minelaying cruiser, fitted for the film with large mock-up gun turrets over her 4" guns. The 'torpedo damage' which forces her delay at Resolution Island is simply painted on the side of her port bow. With three enlarged raked funnels, she looks more like a First World War vessel than any of the German Second World War surface raiders, but she is sufficiently different in appearance not to be mistaken for any of the British ships. The scenes when she is holed up for repairs were filmed in the semi-circular Dwejra bay, guarded by Fungus Rock on the west coast of Gozo Island in Malta. The ship's Captain, John Trevor Lean D.S.O., played the part of the Navigator in the film as he had to be on the bridge at all times. Several of the ship's company also took part as extras, dressed in German uniforms.
The crew of HMS Glasgow are credited in the opening titles; she herself is seen in a few distant shots in company with two Dido-class cruisers, and her triple 6" guns are depicted when the "Essen" fires her main armament at the island in an attempt to dislodge Brown.
The film was originally known as Able Seaman Brown. It was an early star role for Jeffrey Hunter, who was the only American in the cast. The lead character was changed to Canadian to accommodate his accent.
Filming began in London on 22 September 1952 with location filming on Malta. Producer Frank McCarthy knew Lord Mountbatten which enabled him to secure the co-operation of the British admiralty. It was the first American film shot on real British naval ships.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p248
- HOW HUNTER TOOK BRITAIN!: JEFF HUNTER Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 12 July 1953: f9.
- Drama: Deal for Celia Johnson On at 20th; Reason Acts Betrothed of Salome Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 July 1952: 17.
- MISS HUTTON QUITS PARAMOUNT FILMS: Leaves Studio Tomorrow to Go Into Independent Production of Movies With Husband Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 July 1952: 11.
- MOVIELAND BRIEFS Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Sep 1952: B8.
- WENDY HILLER SET FOR NEW FOX FILM: She Will Play Role of Mother in 'Sailor of the King,' Based on C. S. Forester Story By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Sep 1952: 36.
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