Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel stars in "Down to the Sea in Ships"


The legendary Barrymores are getting the blogathon treatment courtesy of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood Here you will find all the affection and admiration accorded the family.

Lionel Barrymore's autobiography, as told to Cameron Shipp, We Barrymores cemented my regard for the actor who was loathe to follow in the family business.  What shone through for me was his love for his grand sister and his tragic and misunderstood baby brother.  

Lionel's screen acting career garnered him one Oscar win for 1931s A Free Soul.  Although I am a fan of Lionel's, I am not a fan of that performance and am flummoxed by the fact that he did not receive another nomination in a career that encompassed over 20 more years and many great performances.  Consider:  Broken Lullaby, Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight, Captains Courageous, Ah, Wilderness!, Key Largo and, my special favourite, Down to the Sea in Ships.

Henry Hathaway directed the 1949 feature Down to the Sea in Ships based on a story by Sy Bartlett (Twelve O'Clock High, The Big Country) and screenplay by John Lee Mahin (Captains Courageous, Bombshell).  The crisp black and white cinematography is by Joseph MacDonald (My Darling Clementine).  The stirring score is from Alfred Newman (How the West Was Won).




New Bedford, 1887 - a land of lighthouses, widow's walks and whaling masters.  Captain Bering Joy (Lionel Barrymore) is a whaling master, the son of a whaling master, the father of a whaling master and the grandfather of a future whaling master, Jed (Dean Stockwell).  Returning to port after four years at sea Captain Joy has a new record in his cargo of whale oil and a grandson who outgrew the clothes with which they started the voyage.  Their next voyage is not assured.  Out of concern and compassion, and the request of the insurance company, Captain Joy's friends and employers want to convince the 70-year-old to retire and live out his remaining years on land.  The local school board will be testing young Jed to ensure his grandfather was diligent in maintaining educational standards.


The future hinges on Jed's exam results.
Lionel Barrymore, Dean Stockwell, Gene Lockhart

A sympathetic school superintemdent (Gene Lockhart) fudges the marks to give Jed a passing grade.  The ship's owners hire, pursuant to Captain Joy's approval, an experienced, university trained first mate in possession of master's papers.  Bering Joy turns the hiring of Mister Lunceford (Richard Widmark) to his own advantage by giving him the duty of tutoring Jed.



Captain Bering Joy addresses the crew.

 "The business of this vessel is the takin' o' whale.  We don't go home til we've a full cargo.  You'll get justice aboard with no favouritism, but I better not run into no shirkin', cowardice nor just plain meanness.  I aim to bring you back better men than when I got ya.  Bare and bow your heads - O Lord, we ask your blessing on this company that go down to the sea in ships; that will see and know your works and your wonders in the vast deep.  Amen."


Ship's log

It is part of Captain Joy's code as master of the ship to treat Jed as he would any other member of the crew now that the lad has moved up from cabin boy.  The affection a grandfather would normally show his grandson is strictly off limits.  The affectionate youngster turns his hero-worshipping eyes in the direction of his new mentor, Mister Lunceford.  Emotion is something Mister Lunceford strives to avoid and does not heed the cook (Cecil Kellaway) when he cautions Lunceford about Jed's attachment and the Captain's jealousy.



Life is a lesson.
Dean Stockwell, Richard Widmark

The films gives us a strong sense of the isolation and tedium broken by the backbreaking  and dangerous work of "takin' whale".  It includes a fascinating look at the rendering of the carcass into the important product of whale oil.  The crew is comprised of a number of familiar character actors whose weathered faces look totally at home in the environment:  J.C. Flippen, John McIntire, Harry Morgan and Arthur Hohl.  The crew is devoted to Captain Joy.  He is strict and demanding, but fair and honest.  Every man knows where they stand with the Captain who holds himself to the highest standard of all.


Avast, mateys!  Spoilers ahead.

Pride and concern as Jed is "blooded".
Lionel Barrymore

Life on a whaling vessel is filled with danger.  One small mistake can cost a man his life.  A crisis comes to pass when one of the longboats sent after a whale goes missing in the fog.  On board is young Jed.  It is against the Captain's rule to endanger a second ship by sending out a search party.  Mister Lunceford disobeys orders by sending out the extra crew.  The missing boat was in great distress, but thankfully they saved the sailors.  Captain Joy was thrilled beyond measure to have his grandson back, yet he still had to discipline Lunceford for disobeying orders by relieving him of duty and sending him ashore at the first opportunity.  Lunceford understood the necessity of his punishment.  Jed, however, saw it only as a sign of meanness in his grandfather and it causes a breach between them.


Pride of New Bedford in distress.

A further tense situation occurs with Captain Joy becoming ill.  Mister Lunceford is placed in charge and the ship is damaged while trying to navigate an ice field.  Men are injured, men are killed and men are frightened.  Captain Joy rouses himself to take charge of the situation displaying the strength of his character and reconciling with Jed.


Captain Bering Joy
Lionel Barrymore

The emotionally inspirational aspect of the story of Down to the Sea in Ships is the maturing of three generations of characters.  Captain Joy appears to be a stubborn and crusty old fellow, but is humble before his God and open-minded enough to admit his lack of education.  When Mister Lunceford's talk is beyond Joy's ken, he secretly takes to the books to improve his knowledge.



Jed Joy and Mister Lunceford
Dean Stockwell, Richard Widmark

Mister Lunceford is bright and ambitious, but he has neglected his emotional understanding and well-being.  By observing and becoming involved in the relationship between Jed and his grandfather and allowing his affection for both to grow, Lunceford becomes a more well-rounded and understanding man and master.

Jed has a youngster's large capacity for both good will and enmity, for quick judgments and misunderstandings.  The adult influences in Jed's life guide him without pushing and he comes through his trials a more aware and thoughtful young man.












26 comments:

  1. Lionel is the Barrymore I'm familiar with most, so I'd probably like this one too, but you're right; it is a surprise to learn that he wasn't Oscar nominated more - and not for lack of good roles.

    Young Dean Stockwell had quite the head of hair on him, didn't he?

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    1. Lionel's long film career in so many classic movies makes him easily a favourite. Born on April 28th, I also think of him as a fellow grumpy Taurean.

      Dean Stockwell is adorable, but didn't they have any combs at 20th Century Fox? I guess it would have been of little concern on a whaling ship.

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  2. I usually pay more attention to brother John, but I learned to enjoy Lionel's performances as well. I must give this film a chance because of one of my favorite child actors: Dean Stockwell. Thanks for the tip.
    Thanks for the kind comment! Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I'm sure you will enjoy the movie. It has been a favourite of mine since childhood and was out of circulation for quite a few years.

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  3. A wonderful film and a wonderful blog entry! Thanks, CW!

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    1. Thank you, Miss McC. I think you may be a little partial, but whether to me or Mr. Lunceford is yet to be determined.

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  4. I regret I've not seen this one, but I love the cast and I hope to catch it sometime. Thanks for a great post.

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  5. Thanks, JT.

    I think this is something you would really like. When I was looking for the Alfred Newman score on YouTube, it appears the film has been uploaded. This may be your opportunity.

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  6. What a cast. This seems like an absolutely perfect vehicle for Lionel. As always, I learn something new and interesting when I stop by here. And I totally agree with you about that performance in "A Free Soul" - wishy-washy at best.

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    1. Well, there's two of us and, seeing as we're fans, Lionel will just have to accept our opinion as the right and true one. Lionel's performance in this movie is lovely, full of touching moments and true emotion.

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  7. Lionel Barrymore certainly looks the part, based on the screen caps you've posted. I can't wait to see this one. I bet he's absolutely terrific.

    Now, about the one Oscar: I hadn't really thought about it until you mentioned it. How is that even possible? Do you think the Academy would entertain a write-in lobby/campaign to change this? (I'm only partly joking...)

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    1. The ways the Academy are often mystifying. Seems they don't really know what is going on in their own industry.

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  8. That's baffling that he wasn't nominated for more! Even his really early work--In Sadie Thompson he was riveting. I've never watched this movie, but appreciate what you say about the character development--always love a good character-driven story.

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    1. "Sadie Thompson" - there's one I overlooked, along with the Academy. Excellent!

      I hope someday you catch "Down to the Sea in Ships". It's one of those movies that stays with you.

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  9. Thank you for a fabulous post! I saw this film for my beloved Richard Widmark, but loved everyone in it. And Lionel really gets to show some new colors here; my God, he could play anything!! There's something incredibly Irish about this movie; it seems to have a dark and brooding soul. Much like the Barrymores themselves... Thank you again, Patricia! I really loved this!!

    Take care,

    Janet (Sister Celluloid!)

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    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      I think I fell a little bit in love with Richard Widmark the first time I saw "Down to the Sea in Ships".

      I like your likening the emotions as being Irish. It is a soulful story.

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  10. There's something about Lionel Barrymore that seems right for a sea captain. I loved his performance in Captains Courageous, and he sounds terrific here. I also agree with you that his performance in A Free Soul is probably not his best; I prefer him in You Can't Take It With You, for which he definitely should have received a nomination.

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    1. Captain Disko and Captain Joy are both great leaders, but with a different style. It is a pleasure to watch Lionel on deck.

      We know the Academy saw "You Can't Take It With You" - how they could have overlooked both Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold's performances is mind boggling.

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  11. Wonderful review of a wonderful actor, and wonderful movie -- that may be too many wonderfuls for one sentence. My favorite Lionel movie is "Key Largo" but I watch anything at all in which he appears as well. "You Can't Take It With You" is at the top as well. Very nice piece, oh Lady of the Pink Typewriter!

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    1. Thanks, Becky.

      You are like my sister, Paula. She can watch "Key Largo" any time, anywhere, all the time. I agree that Grandpa Vanderhoffer is a marvelous character and Lionel is very moving in the role.

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  12. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I've only just got around to reading the entries now, and I must say that I highly enjoyed reading your post. It was very well done and well written. Sadly I've never seen this movie, but I must do so.

    Now that my Barrymore blogathon has finished, I've just announced another blogathon that I would like to invite you to participate in. The link is below with more details.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/in-the-good-old-days-of-classic-hollywood-presents-the-lauren-bacall-blogathon/

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments. It was a pleasure to participate in the blogathon and I appreciate your hosting it and giving me the chance to write about one of my favourite movies.

      I'll have to do some thinking about Ms. Bacall and see what I come up with.

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  13. Great review of a movie I saw once, a long time ago! From what I remember, it felt a bit disjointed - a sugary first half combined with a more dramatic conclusion. I do think this has great visuals though - you really get a sense of the 'action' especially in the scene where the whale is harpooned.
    (Vicki from GirlsDoFilm)

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    1. The movie is divided between land and sea. The Captain Joy on land is a much more vulnerable and open character, especially where Jed is concerned, than he is when in command of his ship and men. Memorable performances in this film. It stays with you, doesn't it?

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  14. I'd love to see this one - I see it is at archive.org but looks like a poor-quality picture, though it might be better if downloaded. I know there was also a silent version starring Clara Bow, so it would be interesting to compare the two! This sounds like a great part for Lionel Barrymore and I also think Dean Stockwell was very talented.as a kid - just looked him up at the imdb and I'm delighted to see that he's still with us and has a new film out this year!

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    1. The earlier film shares the same title, but I don't believe they tell the same story. I haven't seen it yet, but Clara Bow is a very appealing actress.

      If I had to choose one favourite Dean Stockwell performance I don't think I could do it. Youngster or adult, he is riveting.

      I hope you get to see a good copy of the film soon, Judy.

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