Abandon Ship (aka Seven Waves Away): Survival Adventure, Starring Tyrone Power, Mai Zetterling, and Stephen Boyd

Abandon Ship! (aka “Seven Days From Now” and “Seven Waves Away”) is a survival adventure, starring Tyrone Power, Mai Zetterling, and Stephen Boyd. Richard Sale adapted the script from his 1938 story, published by Scribner’s Magazine.

The premise: When his ship goes down, an officer has to make some crucial and agonizing decisions on his overcrowded lifeboat. The plot bears some similarities to the 1841 sinking of the American ship William Brown, which hit an iceberg 250 miles off Newfoundland and lost 31 of its 65 passengers. Two boats with 17 crewmen and the remaining passengers escaped the wreck.

In the movie, the luxury liner SS Crescent Star sinks in 7 minutes after striking a derelict mine in the Atlantic Ocean, taking nearly all of the 1,156 people on board. The survivors, 27, converge on a single lifeboat designed to accommodate only nine. The dying captain passes command to executive officer Alec Holmes (Power).

Holmes learns from “Sparks” Clary, the ship’s radio operator, that both transmitters were destroyed. Holmes decides to try to reach the nearest land, Africa, 1,500 miles away.

The ship’s engineer Frank Kelly (Lloyd Nolan) warns Holmes that the overloaded boat will be swamped unless some passengers are jettisoned. The mortally injured Kelly sacrifices himself by jumping overboard. Holmes then decides to get rid of the old and injured, despite protests of his girlfriend, the ship’s nurse Julie White (Mai Zetterling).

When he orders crewman Will McKinley to dispose of an unconscious woman, McKinley obeys, then jumps in after her. One by one, Holmes sends others to certain death, until there are 15 left aboard.

Passenger Edith Middleton observes that an atomic scientist, a brilliant playwright, and a famous former opera singer have been sacrificed to save two “apemen,” a racketeer, and a devout coward.

Passenger Michael Faroni demands Holmes go back for the others. When Holmes refuses, Faroni wounds him with a switchblade and is in turn shot dead with a gun.

The lifeboat weathers the storm and the rest of the survivors thank Holmes for saving them. Realizing he is now a liability due to his wound, Holmes throws himself overboard, but Julie brings him back aboard. Then, they spot a ship. As it comes to pick them up, the others, with the exceptions of Julie White and Edith Middleton, distance themselves from Holmes’ actions.

The film ends with a voice-over stating, “The story which you have just seen is a true one.  But in real life, Captain Alexander Holmes was tried for murder,  convicted, and given the minimum sentence of six months due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the incident.

Souls at Sea, directed by Henry Hathaway in 1937, was also based on the William Brown incident.

Cast

Tyrone Power as Executive Officer Alec Holmes
Mai Zetterling as Julie White
Lloyd Nolan as Captain Frank Kelly
Stephen Boyd as Will McKinley
Moira Lister as Edith Middleton
James Hayter as “Cookie” Morrow
Marie Lohr as Dorothy Knudson
Finlay Currie as Mr. Wheaton
John Stratton as Jimmy “Sparks” Clary
Victor Maddern as Willy Hawkins
David Langton as John Hayden

Note:

TCM showed this adventure film on March 9, 2020.