|OpenFlix > Mystery of the Marie Celeste, The|
The excellent art direction of J. Elder Wills is ill-utilized, and the film would surely look better if only stills from it survived. The enormous wheel of the opening marriage conflict scene could have been quite powerfully rendered in the hands of a more gifted filmmaker. Notable, too is the noirish use of shadows in the four-handed cinematography.
It is great that Image has taken pains to preserve what's left of the film, but the film itself is a major disappointment--a drama of uninvolving proportions and laughably poor dialogue.
Lugosi really got to show a great deal of dramatic depth in this movie, something that was often denied him in his American films. He really looks the part of an old, broken man despite this movie being made only four years after he brought Dracula to life. Two scenes stand out from the rest. In the first one, Lugosi betrays a wealth of deep, conflicting emotions in reaction to what he has just done; no one can watch this and come away saying Lugosi was not a seriously talented dramatic actor. The second incredible scene has Lugosi soundlessly carrying the movie by himself for several emotional minutes, relying on intensely communicative facial expressions and body language to keep the viewer enthralled.
The Phantom Ship is blessed with great acting, and it makes for a captivating, albeit rather short, movie experience. The historic plot, one which most viewers may already be somewhat familiar with, serves to pull the viewer even further in to what would be a mesmerizing film in and of itself. I would call this a very special prize for Lugosi fans. This is not exactly horror as I define it, yet Lugosi easily outshines every other cast member, supplying the heart and soul that makes this movie so memorable. This is a dramatic performance that all Lugosi fans will definitely want to add to their collections.
Captain Briggs gathers a crew for the trip to England, but not before stealing his best friend's girl and marrying her. With a crew and his new wife aboard, the ship departs New York. Once out at sea, the cruelty of a seaman's life becomes obvious to the new bride, who quickly chooses to stay below deck most of the time. About half-way through the movie, the crew begins getting bumped off one by one, until the mystery of the Mary Celeste becomes legend.
The original British film ran about 80 minutes, some of which was taken up with a courtroom inquiry into the mystery. Those parts are missing from this, the American version, and the footage is assumed to be lost. It was felt that American audiences in 1935 would either not understand or care about the inquiry angle, so these scenes were excised. Clocking in at 62 minutes, "Phantom Ship" seems somewhat strangely tedious despite the cuts. The dialogue and acting are remarkable only in their lifelessness and lack of believability.
However, the movie is still worth a looksee by Lugosi fans. Lugosi offers us a dramatic performance rather than his usual horror genre type of character. He does an admirable job playing the broken shell of a man who lusts for revenge. His performance (especially towards the end of the film), really sells his act.
Edmund Willard plays Toby Bilson, first mate of the ship. He comes off very well as the menacing bully of the deck, seemingly intent on crushing any element of joy the crew may have in their drab lives of toil. Of all the cast, he and Lugosi are just about the only ones that stand out.
Doubling for the Mary Celeste is a British sailing ship used in World War I to hunt down German subs. Shooting parts of the film aboard an actual sailing ship lends some documentary-style assistance to this otherwise dry film.
The transfer is pretty good, and probably the best that could have been made given the age of the film. The transfer reportedly came straight from the original nitrate film elements of the American version.
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