He was a skipper sworn never to be taken! She was the fuse of his floating time-bomb!
As others have noted elsewhere John Wayne surely made some odd picks for his pictures in the 1950s. The enigmatic ultra-American chose to play somewhat atypical roles in The Conquerer (1956), Legend of the Lost (1957), and finally The Sea Chase (1955). Granted, he also made 1956’s classic The Searchers as well, so all his choices were not bad.
The Sea Chase casts John Wayne as, believe it or not, as the captain of a German steamer in Australia immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Although his character, Captain Karl Ehrlich, is anti-Nazi, seeing Wayne as a German is a bit of an anachronism. Thankfully, he doesn’t even make the attempt to mimic a German accent, and even flubs horribly his only German phrase – Auf Wiedersehen. Although this last butchery is amazing in that it escaped the editing room it seems to fit the rather unfinished if not quite unsatisfying nature of the film.
Other than this, John Wayne does well with can only be called sub-par material. The plot is rather pedestrian, merely having Wayne captain his ship (although an apparent almost-derelict, all seems fine aboard except some paint issues) back to the Fatherland. Hot on his tail is the Royal Navy in the form of Commander Jeff Napier (David Farrar).
Commander Napier and Wayne appear to be acquaintances, or perhaps even friends, at the start of the film. Napier introduces Wayne to Lana Turner (playing Elsa Keller), the girl he is severely smitten with- and plans to marry. Unbeknownst to all she is in fact a German spy- who shortly thereafter Wayne is forced to include aboard for his escape plans. Somewhat on the humorous side is Ms. Turner’s lack of baggage but plethora of outfits.
Of course ultimately there arises a love connection between John Wayne and Lana Turner, but it never either makes sense logically or has any chemistry. Overall it is very force, although Wayne does get in some of his typical pedantic flatliners. (Here it is “Has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful when you’re angry?” Or something similar.)
Lana Turner overall seems to be in a throwaway part and she treats it as such. Presumably there was the feeling that the film would be bettered (at least at the box office) by her presence but truly her role could be completely eliminated without a problem and no significant impact on the final result.
Along the way we have the expected events. John Wayne’s first officer massacres some local fisherman, there is a shark attack, and more. Very ho-hum. For most of the run time there is little action but more disheartening is the complete lack of suspense. Even the open ended climax isn’t climactic in the slightest.
As much as this isn’t a film to go out of your way to seek out, it isn’t bad, just simply yet another case of what could have been- a potentially good (if overused) chase motif. It had been done prior and continues to be in the repertoire of current films, many of which are much stronger.
This came out on standard DVD both as a stand alone release and part of a double bill with Blood Alley, also from 1955. Also as of this writing available on Netflix instant, so if you a paying member there, not a bad idea to watch it for yourself.
Not awful, but not especially memorable either.