Devil and the Deep (1932): Marion Gering’s Pre-Code Melodrama, Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant

Though planned as a star vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead, it is Charles Laughton’s performance that dominates Devil and the Deep, a Pre-Code marital melodrama.

Devil and the Deep
Devil and the Deep.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Detailed Plot

Charles Sturm (Laughton) is a naval commander whose jealousy and abuse makes life miserable for his wife Diana (Bankhead). His suspicions fall on his own subordinate, Lieutenant Jaeckel (Grant). Although his suspicions are baseless, Sturm has Jaeckel transferred.

After Charles falls into another fit of paranoid rage and strikes Diana, she wanders off into the streets during a festival and soon encounters another officer, Jaeckel’s replacement, Lieutenant Sempter (Cooper). Learning of their affair, which is real, Charles plots a terrible revenge.

The night Commander Sturm’s submarine is to sail, Diana goes aboard to warn Sempter of his dangerous state. However, when Sturm arrives, he immediately orders the sub out to sea before Diana can return to shore.

In the busy channel, Sturm deliberately maneuvers into the path of an oncoming ship, which rams and sinks the sub. Several compartments are flooded, but the crews get out in time.

Trapped on the bottom, the survivors gather in the control room; Sempter and Sturm square off, asserting command, while Diana exposes Sturm’s madness.

Sempter then takes control and organizes the crew’s escape.  Diana and the crew then exit through the sub’s trunk, and are rescued at the surface.

Refusing to leave the ship, Sturm stays behind and lapses into insanity. He opens a watertight door to let in the sea, laughing maniacally as the water rises.

In the end, Sempter, cleared by court martial, encounters Diana again in a shop, and they reunite.


Devil and the Deep ad

Laughton would win the Best Actor Oscar in the following year, for his performance in the British biopic, The Private Life of Henry VIII.

This was Cary Grant’s second film at Paramount, whose big star in the early 1930s was Gary Cooper.  This is the first of two films in which Grant and Cooper appear together, and while they have no scenes together in this one, they share the screen in one scene in their next film, the 1933 Alice in Wonderland.

Directed by Marion Gering, the film is based on Maurice Larrouy’s novel, Sirenes et Triton.

This and all the other films that Bankhead made in 1932 were commercial flops. The outspoken actress famously later said, “Dahling, the main reason I accepted the part was to f–k that divine Gary Cooper!”


Directed by Marion Gering
Screenplay by Benn W. Levy, Story by Harry Hervey, based on Sirenes et Tritons by Maurice Larrouy
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Otho Lovering
Music by Herman Hand, Rudolph G. Kopp, John Leipold

Production and distribution: Paramount Pictures

Release date: August 12, 1932 (USA)

Running time: 78 minutes