The Long Voyage Home

1940, Movie, NR, 105 mins

Review

LONG VOYAGE HOME, THE
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Based on four one-act plays by Eugene O'Neill, THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is a powerful saga of merchant seamen, their hardscrabble lives, and their hopes for the future. Ford's film is a magnificent portrayal of the struggle not only to survive, but also to remain civilized, during the early days of WWII. As the film opens, the crew of the tramp freighter SS Glencairn is enjoying a last night of liberty on a Caribbean island, attending a party that ends in a brawl before they stagger back to the freighter. Among the crew is Ole Olsen (Wayne), a good-hearted young Swede who only wants to make enough money to settle down with his family on a small farm, and Smitty (Hunter), who doesn't participate in the drunken on-shore revels and whose painful secret causes suspicion among the crew. In Baltimore, the ship takes on a load of dynamite to be delivered to England, and the film details the hazards of raging storms, German fighter planes, and scheming barroom wharf rats. Though several are killed, the men eventually pull together to help one crew member escape a life at sea.

THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is a Ford masterwork--grim, touching, and startlingly well-photographed. Toland's high contrast lighting and shot compositions cast a vivid aura over both sea and land. As Wayne told biographer Maurice Zolotow, "Usually it would be Mr. Ford who helped the cinematographer get his compositions for maximum effect...but in this case it was Gregg Toland who helped Mr. Ford. LONG VOYAGE is about as beautifully photographed a movie as there ever has been."

Wayne himself initially resisted Ford's instruction that he play his character with a Swedish accent, fearing he would appear comic. But he had actress Osa Massen (who was Danish) help him with the accent, and when he first employed it he was congratulated by Ford for getting it right. His work as a naive, simple but not simple-minded man is surprisingly reserved and very effective, not dominating the action the way he usually did. Mitchell, Bond, Fitzgerald, and Qualen are wonderful as various old salts, and Hunter is moving as the tortured seaman who has ruined his life on land. There is a pervasive air of gloom about THE LONG VOYAGE HOME: death lurks on land and at sea, and though the seamen yearn for their long-lost homes, most of them know that they will sail on until they are buried beneath the waves. THE LONG VOYAGE HOME was playwright O'Neill's favorite film; Ford gave him a print of it and he and he ran it over and over again until he wore it out. leave a comment

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