Sea Chase, The (1955): John Wayne as Good German, Courting Glamorous Lana Turner

Even by standards of  action-adventure, “The Sea Chase” suffers from a terrible screenplay and incredulous casting.  For starters, John Wayne plays Karl Ehrlich, a good German sea captain. Set in the early days of the War, it’s supposed to be a thriller, but instead unfolds as a melodrama.

Ehrlich has been relegated to command a freighter following his opposition to Hitler’s regime, but being a patriot, he wants to return home. Under the disguise of a Panamian banana boat, the outlaw freighter slips out of Sydney.

Among the varied passengers are a suspected beautiful Nazi (Lana Turner) and a real Nazi.

The freighter is also pursued by a British war ship, which penetrates the disguise and intercepts it.  The film contains a strange, rather inconclusive, ending, with the freighter sinking in the North Sea and all but the movie stars (Wayne and Turner) dead.

Though panned by all critics, “The Sea Chase” was nonetheless highly profitable at the box-office, ranking as one of the ten blockbusters of  1955. “The script-writers have changed the book,” Bosley Crowther complained in the N.Y. Times, “so that it comes out partly as a conventional heroic and ideologically silly sea romance.”  Indeed, Andrew Geer’s best-selling novel is more straightforward, suspenseful, and exciting.  However, the movie inspired by the book, under John Farrow’s direction, is a melodrama with lots of talk and not enough action.

Other reviewers criticized Hollywood’s recent trend of elevating German officers to the status of honorable heroes by casting the roles with major American stars, such as John Gavin in “A Time to Love and a Time to Die,” and Marlon Brando in “The Young Lions.”