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June 29, 2006

The Lana Turner Blog-a-thon: The Sea Chase


John Farrow - 1955
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Of the many films starring Lana Turner, The Sea Chase is atypical, but it is representative of the state of her career at the time. By the early Fifties, Lana Turner had been a MGM star for over ten years. A consistent box office draw in the Forties, her home studio assigned her to increasingly sillier films following The Bad and the Beautiful. The Sea Chase was the first of several films Turner made for other studios during a period when MGM still kept her under contract. The film belongs primarily to star John Wayne. Turner is essentially along for the boat ride.

The story is about a German freighter captain whose ship is chased by the Australian Navy during the early days of World War II. Not only has the ship illegally slipped out of port, but one of the freighter's officers has shot several unarmed civilians at an island port, a criminal act of which the captain is originally unaware. Unlike his appearance in The Long Voyage Home as Ole Olsen, John Wayne does not use an accent as the German captain, Karl Ehrlich. None of the other actors have German accents either, although one is treated to the sight of supporting players James Arness, Claude Akins and Alan Hale, Jr. as Aryan blonds. The politics are fuzzy with these apolitical and "good" Germans, save for Lyle Bettger as the mandatory villainous Nazi who tries to get away with murder.

As the lone woman on Wayne's ship, Turner plays a mysterious woman from Wayne's past, Elsa Keller. Turner may have brought some star power to the role, but one could imagine that Gail Russell or Susan Hayward would have done just as well. Turner fits in with the casting short hand of bottled blond Germans. It may have been part of her contract, but Turner first appears wearing a fur coat. Later she is seen wearing some form fitting sweaters, a reminder of what made her a star in the first place. While the ship's crew gets grubbier as the film progresses, Turner remains her glamorous self no matter how primitive the conditions around her.

The Sea Chase was the second of two films John Wayne did with director John Farrow. It may reflect his failing health, but Farrow's last films lack the snap of films he had made just a few years previously. While not as petrified as John Paul Jones, The Sea Chase often feels stodgy compared to the compact Hondo. What The Sea Chase needed most was the sarcastic humor that informs such adventures as His Kind of Woman and the Wayne produced Plunder of the Sun. One of the few moments that is similar to those films is when a German government official, asking Wayne to cover-up the murder, states: "I wouldn't think of asking you to lie... you haven't had the proper diplomatic training."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 29, 2006 12:49 AM


Peter, I appreciate your contribution to the Lanathon of this relatively obscure film that represents the state of her career at the time. An intriguing approach.

Posted by: Maya at June 29, 2006 12:53 PM