Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The Last Voyage (1960)

“This is one guy I'm gonna help aboard personally!”

This line is uttered by Cliff Henderson (Robert Stack) as he helps Hank Lawson (Woody Strode) clamber aboard the last lifeboat after an ageing luxury liner, SS Claridon, en route to Japan, goes under.

Lawson, a black man, has just spent a better part of the 91-minute Oscar-nominated film helping Henderson rescue his wife, Laurie (Dorothy Malone), from the wreckage of their cabin which is hit by a huge explosion in the boiler room. Lawson, a tall, bare and muscular handyman in the engine room, could have abandoned the sinking liner with the rest of his mates but decides to stay back and help Henderson extricate his wife from the debris. He also ensures the safety of their four-year old daughter by putting her on board one of the fleeing lifeboats.

Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone in an emotional moment.

The Last Voyage, written and directed by Andrew L. Stone, moves at a slow pace and the long wait – till Laurie is rescued just as the ship goes down completely – is agonising for the viewer. Will she or won’t she make it? You’re relieved that she makes it in the end, with plenty of help from Second Engineer Walsh (Edmond O’Brien) towards the end. At one point, as her devoted husband Cliff runs around frantically for help, Laurie contemplates slashing her wrist with a shard of glass lying nearby so that at least her distraught husband can save himself. She decides against killing herself because she knows losing hope is half the battle lost.

The film is realistic for its portrayal of a huge ship in distress, the scramble for survival among its hundreds of passengers, a captain (George Sanders) who refuses to believe his ship is sinking, and the respect that he, as Captain Robert Adams, commands among his junior and senior officers. For me, the defining feature of The Last Voyage is the portrayal of racial equality among men as they come together in a desperate bid for survival. 

Woody Strode, Robert Stack and Edmond O'Brien in The Last Voyage. 

Hank Lawson, with a smile on his face and a kerchief around his neck, is endearing throughout the movie as he refuses to ditch Cliff Henderson and save his own life, because he knows it could have been his wife trapped down there. 

For more Overlooked/Forgotten films this Tuesday, visit Todd Mason’s exciting blog.


  1. I've never seen this one. Great cast though.

  2. I love Woody Strode and I've never seen this film. How is that possible?

    I'm hoping Netflix has it. Sounds really good. I love ship disaster films. Hmmmm, well, you know what I mean. :)

  3. Haven't seen this one in an age! A real protoype for the disaster movies of the 1970s and all shot on location on a real liner, the 'Ile de France' which Stone then sank for real. His philosophy was, "I get 'em intro trouble in the first reel and keep 'em in trouble till the end", which I guess he lives up to here!

  4. Patti, I caught this film on TCM which was running a few Dorothy Malone films.

  5. Yvette, I'd neither seen Woody Strode in a film before now heard of THE LAST VOYAGE till TCM showed it last week. It's probably one of the earliest ship-disaster movies, and well-made too.

  6. Sergio, thanks for that interesting tidbit about the film being shot on a real liner. The scenes from beginning to end do seem very real. And, obviously, there are casualties on the ill-fated ship but Andrew Stone doesn't tell you, which I found unusual. I mean you don't see people falling off the deck and into the cold waters far below as you do in TITANIC. The film is focused: it revolves around just three to four characters including the captain.

  7. I saw this film when it was new and never forgot it. It is gripping from the very first moments. Woody Strode had a fairly remarkable career in Hollywood given that he was not a well-known actor like Poitier or Belafonte. He shows up in John Ford westerns and was also one of the mercenaries in THE PROFESSIONALS. Excellent review of this undeservedly forgotten film, in which a real liner actually sinks.

  8. Hi, I took one of your reading suggestions and posted on my reaction to Family Matters today-thanks for the great suggestion

  9. Ron, thanks for your appreciation. The film is certainly gripping. One of the things I liked about it was the way the scenes depicting panic among the passengers were shot, all very regulated. Everyone donned their life jackets and got into the lifeboats with minimum fuss. I wasn't familiar with Woody Strode till I saw THE LAST VOYAGE. I'll be looking out for the John Ford westerns you mentioned as also THE PROFESSIONALS.

  10. Mel, you're welcome. I'm going to hop over to your blog and read it.