Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)

120 mins | Drama | March 1949

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HISTORY

According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Down to the Sea in Ships was a project which studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had long wanted to produce. In 1940, Zanuck announced that the studio was producing "three films of the 'road-show' variety... Lillian Russell , Brigham Young and Down to the Sea in Ships ." At that time, the studio had acquired an option on the rights to a 1923 film titled Down to the Sea in Ships made by the Whaling Film Corporation of New Bedford, MA. However, the film that was eventually produced by Zanuck was not a remake of the 1923 picture but was based on a new story. Oct 1940 HR news items reported that Tyrone Power and Laird Cregar would star and that the studio had sent a crew, headed by James Havens, to Mexico to film whaling operations. However, because of wartime restrictions, the film was shelved for several years. In a Sep 1945 HR news item, the studio announced a revival of the project with Power still being considered for the lead. At that time, however, there was no completed screenplay, and writer Sy Bartlett did not become involved in the project until mid-1946. In a Feb 1948 memo to producer Louis D. Lighton, Zanuck expressed dismay at the length of the 178-page script and proceeded to make radical cuts in it in order to reduce production costs
       The majority of the film was shot on one sound stage, in which a full ... More Less

According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Down to the Sea in Ships was a project which studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had long wanted to produce. In 1940, Zanuck announced that the studio was producing "three films of the 'road-show' variety... Lillian Russell , Brigham Young and Down to the Sea in Ships ." At that time, the studio had acquired an option on the rights to a 1923 film titled Down to the Sea in Ships made by the Whaling Film Corporation of New Bedford, MA. However, the film that was eventually produced by Zanuck was not a remake of the 1923 picture but was based on a new story. Oct 1940 HR news items reported that Tyrone Power and Laird Cregar would star and that the studio had sent a crew, headed by James Havens, to Mexico to film whaling operations. However, because of wartime restrictions, the film was shelved for several years. In a Sep 1945 HR news item, the studio announced a revival of the project with Power still being considered for the lead. At that time, however, there was no completed screenplay, and writer Sy Bartlett did not become involved in the project until mid-1946. In a Feb 1948 memo to producer Louis D. Lighton, Zanuck expressed dismay at the length of the 178-page script and proceeded to make radical cuts in it in order to reduce production costs
       The majority of the film was shot on one sound stage, in which a full scale reproduction of a whaling ship was built on a hydraulically moveable cradle so that it could be made to sway in front of the sea backgrounds, which were projected on process screens. A few shots were done in waters off Seal Beach, CA but most of the action involving the harpoon boats was done in the studio tank. An Apr 1949 AmCin article details the shooting of miniatures for the collision of the ship and the iceberg. A studio press release contained in the AMPAS Library files reported that the studio bought four tons of whale blubber from a whaling company in Vancouver, shipped it to the studio in refrigerated trucks and kept it frozen until it was used for the rendering sequence.
       Studio records indicate that scenes involving actors Ruth Donnelly, Connie Marshall and Hubert E. Flanagan, as neighbors of Captain Joy in New Bedford, were shot but cut from the film before release. Other legal records list Harry Carter and Bob Adler as members of the ship's crew, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Studio records also indicate that one of the film's art directors, Ben Hayne, and technical advisor Albert C. Wilvers appeared in the film. Lionel Barrymore and Dean Stockwell were borrowed from M-G-M for this film, which also marked Richard Widmark's first sympathetic role. Widmark appeared at the film's elaborate three-theater, world premiere in New Bedford and rejoined Barrymore for a radio adaptation of the film broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on 30 Apr 1951. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Apr 49
p. 123, 142-144.
Box Office
19 Feb 1949.
---
Daily Variety
16 Feb 49
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Feb 49
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
19 Feb 49
p. 30.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 48
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 48
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 49
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 49
p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Feb 49
p. 4505.
New York Times
23 Feb 49
p. 31.
The Exhibitor
2 Mar 49
p. 2571.
Variety
26 Feb 49
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
From a story by
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Stills
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
MUSIC
Orch arr
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
SOURCES
SONGS
"Ol' Briny," music by Alfred Newman, lyrics by Ken Darby.
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1949
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New Bedford, MA: 15 February 1949
New York opening: 22 February 1949
Production Date:
19 August--17 November 1948
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
16 February 1949
Copyright Number:
LP2443
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
120
Length(in feet):
10,819
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
13397
SYNOPSIS

In 1887, Captain Bering Joy returns to New Bedford, Massachusetts after a long whaling voyage to find that Jason Briggs and Benjamin Harris, owners of his ship The Pride of Bedford , want him to retire even though he has brought back a record amount of oil. The physically disabled Bering refuses, and afterward, his young grandson Jed, whose father was also a captain and was killed at sea attempting to save one of his crew, leaves his crew in order to continue his formal education. With Bering's help, Jed studies for his fourth grade examination. At the grammar school, superintendent Andrew L. Bush and teacher Miss Hopkins administer the exam, which Jed fails. Bush, who once sailed with Bering and respects him as a great moulder of character, realizes that Bering wants to take Jed to sea again to train him to be a whaling ship master and tells them that Jed has passed. Later, Briggs and Harris introduce Bering to Dan Lunceford, whom they have hired as the new first mate with the intention of having him eventually take over command. Bering is not impressed by the fact that Dan has studied whaling and marine biology at a college instead of learning from direct experience as he has. However, Bering agrees to take Dan on, and The Pride of Bedford sets sail. Bering tells Dan that he is placing him in charge of the crew and that he is to treat Jed like any other crew member but must oversee Jed's studying. Dan tutors Jed but is quite hard on him and gives him menial work assignments. Nevertheless, Jed's studies improve and a mutual ... +


In 1887, Captain Bering Joy returns to New Bedford, Massachusetts after a long whaling voyage to find that Jason Briggs and Benjamin Harris, owners of his ship The Pride of Bedford , want him to retire even though he has brought back a record amount of oil. The physically disabled Bering refuses, and afterward, his young grandson Jed, whose father was also a captain and was killed at sea attempting to save one of his crew, leaves his crew in order to continue his formal education. With Bering's help, Jed studies for his fourth grade examination. At the grammar school, superintendent Andrew L. Bush and teacher Miss Hopkins administer the exam, which Jed fails. Bush, who once sailed with Bering and respects him as a great moulder of character, realizes that Bering wants to take Jed to sea again to train him to be a whaling ship master and tells them that Jed has passed. Later, Briggs and Harris introduce Bering to Dan Lunceford, whom they have hired as the new first mate with the intention of having him eventually take over command. Bering is not impressed by the fact that Dan has studied whaling and marine biology at a college instead of learning from direct experience as he has. However, Bering agrees to take Dan on, and The Pride of Bedford sets sail. Bering tells Dan that he is placing him in charge of the crew and that he is to treat Jed like any other crew member but must oversee Jed's studying. Dan tutors Jed but is quite hard on him and gives him menial work assignments. Nevertheless, Jed's studies improve and a mutual affection develops between them. When Slush Tubbs, the ship's cook, suggests to Dan that it is the captain's love for the boy that is driving him on and that he may be becoming jealous of Dan's friendship with Jed, Dan becomes more distant toward Jed. The voyage continues but the crew has no success in locating whales until one day, in South American waters, Jed spots a whale from the crow's nest. Three harpooning boats go out in pursuit, and Dan's boat harpoons the whale and is pulled along by it, but Dan has to cut the line when the harpoonist, Britton, is injured. One of the other boats brings the whale in, and the entire crew renders it. Later, Dan talks with Bering about sending Jed on the next whale capture, and Jed goes out in sailor Thatch's boat. However, by night, a heavy fog has settled in and Thatch's boat has not returned. Although Bering does not want to risk the lives of other crewmembers. Dan goes out with a search boat and finds Thatch, Jed and the crew clinging to the wreakage of their boat and brings them back. The next day, Bering tells Dan that, as a man, he is grateful for what he did but that he violated his authority. Bering then relieves Dan of his duties, telling him that he will be put ashore at the next supply port. Dan accepts Bering's decision, but Jed is dismayed and goes to talk to the captain, "man to man," and requests to be put ashore as well. Thinking he has failed to make Jed the man he hoped he would become, Bering strikes him in anger. Later, as the voyage continues, Bering realizes that he is too ill to continue command and asks Dan to take over. After crewmember Blair examines Bering, Dan decides to take him back to the last port. Dan tells Jed that Bering is a fine man who has made the correct decisions regarding his ship and crew. Later, in thick fog, the ship collides with an iceberg and suffers damage below the water line. While assisting Dan in trying to cover the hole, Britton is crushed between the ship and the ice. Dan rescues him, mangling his arm in the process, but Britton dies. Some of the crew want to abandon ship, but Bering comes on deck and successfully supervises the repairs. On Bering's death bed, Jed withdraws his request to be put ashore and makes up with his grandfather. Bering is buried at sea and Dan respectfully assumes command of the ship. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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