The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) with Charlton Heston

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The Saga of the Derelict, Mary Deare… the strange secret she carried… the desperate voyage and plot to sink her!


Another film Hitchcock might have done – and actually was intended for him.  However, not feeling the usual Hitchcock allure, he opted out and instead made North by Northwest.  Hitchcock felt the only way to do The Wreck of the Mary Deare would be to produce it as a boring courtroom drama, which he had already done- withness the lackluster The Paradine Case.  Perhaps an okay decision.  That being said, The Wreck of the Mary Deare is a strong drama with much to recommend it.

Based on the novel by Hammond Innes, the film stars an obviously ailing Gary Cooper in the lead role of Captain Gideon Patch with exceptionally strong support from Charlton Heston as salvage operator John Sands.  Michael Redgrave and Richard Harris also come in, the latter in a key role as ship’s officer Higgins.

Gary Cooper’s ill health at the time (he would make only one more film) contributes mightily to the struggles of Captain Patch and thankfully Charlton Heston, fresh off Ben-Hur, does not leaden the proceedings overly much.  This is perhaps one of Heston’s better non-epic non-sci-fi related roles. At least his lack of overall emotion seems to work here.

Also good for the eyes is the absence of any contrived love story to detract from the proceedings. Could you imagine such a thing being done today?

Charlton Heston comes across the seemingly abandoned Mary Deare adrift in a storm in the English Channel.  After a bit of exploring he decides to claim her for salvage rights, but then uncovers the presence of Captain Patch (Cooper), the lone crew member on board.  After initial head butting Cooper and Heston work together to save the ship by running her aground.

The special effects for the ship in the storm are quite good by any standard, an exceptional for the day.  It is fairly hard to tell it is a model, and only the close ups on the waves crashing over the ship betray this fact (well, that and logic).  If only they could scale the water!  A single splashed drop is as big as the bridge!  But still well done, and exceptionally so when considering the era.

During this Heston begins to get glimpses of an odd and perhaps unbelievable story which brought the Mary Deare  to where she is today.  Captain Patch is very keen on having a board of inquiry look at the stricken vessel and after an initial resistance Charlton Heston agrees not to disclose her location.

Here is does become a courtroom drama, but I would say a fairly lively one.  Cooper relates a story of insurance fraud with several odd incidents such as fires and explosions as proof of the crew’s complicity.  We learn too of Gary Cooper’s questionable record in the merchant marine, which ultimately discredits most of his testimony.  Director Michael Anderson does an excellent job of keeping this from being the boring drama others envisioned.

Cooper’s big surprise, which he was holding for later in the inquiry, is lost when it is learned that the Mary Deare didn’t sink, but was in fact beached.  His hopes for independent confirmation of the potential insurance fraud are dashed.  Perhaps.

So Coop and Charlton Heston head out to the beached ship to do their own scuba reconnaissance and investigation.  The last third, much like the first, has quite a bit of suspense, action, and above average special effects.  It is really only the middle third which has the courtroom pieces.

So was this all a huge insurance scam?  Well watch the movie and learn for yourself.  It is available in several old-fashioned physical DVD releases, some as parts of box sets.  Also, as of this writing The Wreck of the Mary Deare is available on Netflix instant.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare is a very good film, though perhaps not great.  I was very surprised on viewing how good it was as some of my previewing research indicated a bit of a dullard.  Not true to say the least.

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