Long Voyage Home, The (1940): John Wayne Stars in Ford’s Adaptation of O’Neill’s Short Plays









Grade: A- (**** out od *****)

Produced by Walter Wanger and directed by John ford at the prime of his career, The Long Voyage Home was based on four one-acts by Eugene O’Neill (“Bound East for Cardiff,” “In the Zone,” “The Long Voyage Home,” and “The Moon of Caribees”).

Adapted to the screen by Dudley Nichols, the movie is one of the most effective attempts to transfer an O’Neill work on the big screen.

Centering on the nature life at sea, the tale concerns the tough crew of Glencairn, the English tramp freighter dispatched from the West Indies to England with a cargo of dynamite.

Essaying a slight Swedish accent, John Wayne plays Ole Olsen, a member of the crew and the only man who has a place to call home, a farm and a family.  Younger than the others, Ole is still innocent, even naive and at times too slow-witted, but he’s likable and accepted by the men as one of their own.

Olsen had been paid off several times at the end of a voyage near his home, but each time, as he recalls, “One drink with the boys and then…”  Like Ringo Kid, the youth John Wayne played in Stagecoach the year before, Ole is always willing to help out, always ready for an assignment with a friendly greeting and a smile.

the_long_voyage_home_wayne_5Strong, straightforward, and good-hearted, Ole proves to be useful and effective for the group. He takes care of the injured wrist of Drisc (Thomas Mitchell, who played the drunk doctor in Stagecoach), breaks ups fights between the men, carrying the drunken Smitty (Ian Hunter) from the deck back to his bunk.

Also like the Ringo Kid, Olsen has no experience with or knowledge of women.  Watch how his eyes light up when his peers get excited by the native girls at a Caribbean stopping point. Ole is the kind of man who’s happy when the others are happy.

the_long_voyage_home_wayne_4What makes the film interesting is the psychological insights it provides about the behavior of men under conditions of pressure and isolation. In theme, it’s similar in several respects to Ford’s earlier film, Men Without Women.

Visually stunning, this evocative movie is photographed by the great artist, Gregg Toland (who also shot Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane).


Because all three creators, Wanger, Ford, and Nichols, were known for their anti-Facist feelings, “The Longest Way Home” was perceived as a war film and a tribute to Britain in its fight against Hitler. As Andrew Sinclair, one of Ford’s biographers, pointed out, “Ford was using Irish-American plays and players to praise English patriotism.”

the_long_voyage_home_wayne_3John Wayne gives one of his best performances as Ole Olsen, the naive, innocent Swedish sailor who dreams of returning home to his farm.  It was one of the first films for which Wayne received favorable reviews as an actor rather than screen presence.

The Long Voyage Home was highly praised by most film critics. The influential Bosley Crowther wrote a rave review in the N.Y. Times, describing the movie as “a revelation of man’s pathetic shortcomings,” and “one of the most honest pictures ever placed on the screen.” Crowther particularly liked the “penetrating glimpse into the hearts of little men,” and thought that, “Because it shows that out of human weakness there proceeds some nobility, it is far more gratifying than the fanciest hero-worshipping fare.”

the_long_voyage_home_wayne_2Nominated for six Oscars, The Longest Voyage Home was one of the ten contenders for the 1940 Best Picture, but it lost in each category it was nominated. (See below).

Though it helped reaffirmed John Wayne’s stature as a major star, the movie was not popular at the box-office, perhaps because it was too episodic (and plotless) and too moody by standards of the times.


the_long_voyage_home_wayne_1The movie was released in October 1940, a full year before the American involvement in the War.





Oscar Nominations: 6

Picture, produced by John Ford

Screenplay (Adapted): Dudley Nichols

Cinematography (b/w): Gregg Toland

Original Score: Richard Hageman

Film Editing: Sherman Todd

Special Effects: R. T. Layton, R. O. Binger, Thomas T. Moulton


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

In 1940, Hitchcock’s Oscar winner “Rebecca” competed for the top award with nine other films: Hitchcock’s own “Foreign Correspondent” (one of his lesser movies), “All This and Heaven Too,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Dictator,” “Kitty Foyle,” “The Letter,” “The Long Voyage Home,” “Our Town,” and “The Philadelphia Story.”


John Ford, like Hitchcock, had two movies in contention: “The Grapes of Wrath,” starring Henry Fonda, and “The Long Voyage Home,” with John Wayne.

In 1940, “Rebecca” won the Cinematography Oscar (by George Barnes), and “The Thief of Bagdad” Special Effects.   Donald Ogden Stewart won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story.” Original Score honored “Pinocchio,” and Anne Bauchens won the Editing award for “Northwest Mounted Police.”

The distinguished cinematographer Gregg Toland was first Oscar-nominated for William Wyler’s “Dead End,” then four years later for Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”  He died young and never won a legit Oscar.


Ole Olsen (John Wayne)

Aloysius Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell)

Smitty (Ian Hunter)

Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald)

Captain (Wilfrid Lawson)

Freda (Mildred Natwick)

Axel Swanson (John Qualen)

Yank (Ward Bond)

Davis (Joseph Sawyer)



United Artists (Argosy-Walter Wanger)

Directed by John Ford

Screenplay: Dudley Nichols

Camera: Gregg Toland

Editor: Sherman Todd

Music: Richard Hageman

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Release date: October 8, 1940