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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Cruel Sea (1953)


Starring: Jack Hawkins, Sir Donald Sinden, John Stratton, Stanley Baker, Virginia McKenna and Denholm Elliot
Optimum Classic
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 13 June 2011

At the beginning of the Second World War, Commander Ericson takes command of the HMS Compass Rose, a convoy escort. His inexperienced crew have to battle against the weather and the sea, protecting convoys from U-Boats, often engaging in harrowing rescues and frustrating attacks. As the men fight they begin to grow as a crew, all the time knowing that they could die at any given moment...

The Cruel Sea (1953 - 2 hr, 06 min, 23 sec) is a superior WW2 drama, directed by Charles Frend.

For the few who have never seen the film, this is not your usual war movie with a band of brave souls fighting the evil Nazis. The Cruel Sea is more rightly a character study of a group who endure excessive stresses and tribulations. In that light there are few films finer than this. As the focus of the movie is on the men and their predicament, there are very few derogatory references to their supposed enemy, the Germans, as the crew quickly discover that they have much more to fear from the strange temperaments of the seas than they do from their human antagonists.

Jack Hawkins is pitch perfect in his portrayal of Ericson, initially scornful of his new recruits, who at best have has some inshore sailing experience. Though his heroic stoicism is pushed to breaking point when he has to make difficult decisions, like murdering sailors adrift, to attack a U-boat, which had the potential to kill hundreds. The film, even in this instance, does not shy away from trying to present a version of uber reality, within the film, as one of his own crew shouts that he is a murderer.

For a film made in this era, you could not ask for a better, or a more prestigious cast, including Donald Sinden (Lockhart), Denholm Elliott (Morell), Stanley Baker (Bennett) and Virginia McKenna (Julie). Each is at the top of their game and there is little to fault with any of their performances.

Presented in the fully restored Blu-ray, the black & white film has high levels of detail and distinct improvements in its black and grey levels. The audio is only stereo, but does the job just fine.

Given the age of the film - which is a euphemism for they are mostly dead - it is nice to have an interview with Donald Sinden (32 min, 30 sec), recalling him memories of making the film, including having his life saved by Jack Hawkins. The disc wraps up with the Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min, 48 sec) and a stills gallery.

There is still much here to engross a modern audience brought up on special effects and sappy scripts.


Charles Packer

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