Wreck of the Mary Deare , The (1959): Thriller Courtroom Drama, Starring Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston

Michael Anderson directed The Wreck of the Mary Deare, a dull British-American thriller drama, starring Gary Cooper in one of his final roles and Charlton Heston, based on the 1956 novel of the same name by Hammond Innes.

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

The Wreck of the Mary Deare
The Wreck of the Mary Deare FilmPoster.jpeg

Theatrical release poster

The secondary ensemble includes Michael Redgrave, Cecil Parker, Richard Harris and John Le Mesurier.

Hitchcock had wanted to work with Cooper, but after developing the script with Ernest Lehman for weeks, he concluded that it would be a boring courtroom drama (he was right) and abandoned the idea, instead making North by Northwest, one of his best films starring Cary Grant.

There were long delays in the shoot due to Cooper’s ill health, though he was not diagnosed with cancer until the spring of 1960; he died less than a year later.

The steamship Mary Deare, out of Hong Kong, is found adrift at sea in a storm in the English Channel by salvager John Sands. Sands boards it hoping to claim it for salvage, but finds Gideon Patch, former first officer who has been captain since the death of Taggart, the previous captain, still aboard and trying to run the ship.

Patch gives Sands mysterious hints about two fires, and refuses to let the ship be claimed for salvage, and insists on running it onto rocks in the dangerous region of the Minquiers, so that it will stay above water until an official inspection.

Patch finally gets his board of inquiry, but it goes badly as the lawyer for the owners presents Higgins’ story as the authentic record, and Patch’s credibility is damaged when he admits that he accidentally killed Captain Taggart while trying to control him in a fit of delirium.

Patch and Sands don diving suits and get into the ship underwater only to find that the engine boxes are filled with rocks.

In the end, Higgins’ friends abandon the murderous plot, and the French salvagers call the authorities. Vindicated,¬† Patch remains committed, claiming that he really wants to command another ship.

Neither satisfying as an adventure (the first half) nor effective as courtroom drama (the second), and dismissed by critics, the movie was a box-office flop vis-a-vis its budget; it was shot on CinemaScope.

Gary Cooper as Gideon Patch
Charlton Heston as John Sands
Michael Redgrave as Mr Nyland
Emlyn Williams as Sir Wilfred Falcett
Cecil Parker as The Chairman
Alexander Knox as Petrie
Virginia McKenna as Janet Taggart
Richard Harris as Higgins
Ben Wright as Mike


Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Screenplay by Eric Ambler, based on The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1956 novel) by Hammond Innes
Music by George Duning
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Eda Warren

Production company: Blaustein-Baroda

Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: November 6, 1959

Running time: 104 minutes