This article is for The World War II Blogathon hosted by Jay of Cinema Essentials and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films running on September 1-3. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
This is the story of a Corvette, a little ship, a fighting ship, and of the officers and men of the Royal Canadian Navy, who have made the name Corvette a byword for endurance and sacrifice among the submarine lanes of the North Atlantic....
Without the active cooperation of the men and ships of the Royal Canadian Navy this story could not have been told.
The search for wartime material saw Hollywood's eyes turn northward to Canada for inspiration. Corvette K-225 was filmed and released in 1943 produced by Howard Hawks with his frequent director/collaborator Richard Rosson for Universal Studios. The British ships, several of whom were built in Canada were used as anti-submarine convoy escorts in the Atlantic by the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and on a lend-lease program to the American Coast Guard.
The story in Corvette K-225 concerns the exploits of the Donnacona, her captain and crew. The screenplay is by John Rhodes Sturdy, Lieut. R.C.N.V.R. who also acted as Technical Advisor. The HMS Kitchener was used for the film's ship. Camera crews accompanied five convoys for film footage. Shipyards in St. John, New Brunswick and the University of King's College in Halifax are also used for authenticity in the backgrounds. The shots of the convoy leaving Halifax Harbour are particularly impressive.
Randolph Scott plays the Captain, Lieut. Commander Duncan MacClain, devoted to his service and to his men. He is anxious to get back into action with a new ship after a disastrous run-in with a German submarine. There is a score to settle and a job to do. Equally devoted to their captain is the remaining crew which will be augmented on their next assignment by newly-minted officers and rookies who have never seen the sea. It is a cliche of war pictures because it was a fact of the actual circumstances that these disparate personalities would learn to pull together.
James Brown is the hot-headed young lieutenant whose brother was killed under MacClain's command. David Bruce is outstanding as Lt. Rawlins, whose knowledge and personality creates a character worth knowing. James Flavin is the perfect "Number One" who knows when the Captain needs to hear what others might not say. The Chief Engineer, who holds the ship together with wire and spit, is Charles McGraw.
Among the colourful crew we find garrulous Barry Fitzgerald, smart-alec Walter Sande, dog lover Fuzzy Knight, contentious pals Murray Alper and Andy Devine, farmboy Noah Beery Jr., and a fussy Thomas Gomez. Many familiar faces pass in review, so keep your eyes peeled for Bob Mitchum, Jimmie Dodd, Frank Faylen, Milburn Stone, Richard Lane, Grandon Rhodes, Addison Richards, Peter Lawford, and Ian Wolfe.
Ella Raines, Randolph Scott
Ella Raines makes her film debut as Joyce Cartwright, the sister of two of the young officers who serve with MacClain. Their meeting is complicated by one brother's death and complicated by her other brother's attitude. Nonetheless, a touching romance develops. It is the thankless role of "the girl", but Raines related in an interview that Hawks took great care with her and made her comfortable. If nothing else, it is a lovely introduction to audiences of an actress with a very interesting career. In 1949 Ella Raines would again co-star with Scott in The Walking Hills directed by John Sturges.
The importance of military and other supplies getting to Britain during this period cannot be overly stressed. The bravery of the tankers and other international ships transporting the goods is acknowledged. It is an interesting point that the captain of a Russian freighter is female. The dangers presented by the German U-boat was very real and presented as such during the sequences at sea. We experience the constant stress, the deprivations, and the life and death danger as our Donnacona faces storms of the sea and of the mind.
Barry Fitzgerald, Randolph Scott, James Brown
The action sequences are harrowing and very well done. The ending of this assignment is movingly presented as the convoy salutes the wrecked Donnacona and her depleted crew. The commander and men of Corvette K-225 are touched, but already thinking of repairs and escorting more ships across the Atlantic.
She will carry on, and those who come after her, for her name is legion, and the legend of her, and of those who fight in her is an inspiration for all men who believe in courage and hope.
The movie's advertisement in British Columbia, the birthplace of Randolph Scott's character.
The film premiered in Ottawa with proceeds going to the Navy League of Canada.
The tune you will begin to recognize interpolated in the score is The Maple Leaf Forever, a patriotic song written by Alexander Muir in 1867 as an ode to Canada's British heritage. Hollywood musical arrangers would rely on the tune whenever a story, particularly a wartime story, traveled north of the border. You'll soon be able to recognize it in Tomorrow is Forever, Captain of the Clouds, Susannah of the Mounties, and other movies.