Morning Departure (1950) starring John Mills, Nigel Patrick, Richard Attenborough, James Hayter, George Cole, Bernard Lee, Kenneth More directed by Roy Ward Baker Movie Review

Morning Departure (1950)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Richard Attenborough and John Mills in Morning Departure (1950)

Mills' Scuppered Sub

I've watched a few submarine movies and most of them have been war based, "Morning Departure" is different as the focus is on a submarine crippled on the sea bed and the rescue/escape plan. It makes it a very different sort of submarine movie as whilst there is action the focus is more on the men who find themselves trapped, waiting for help to come and how they deal with all the pressure. And being different also means it is gripping because the small cast and small space makes it tense, real and whilst stereotypically a British stiff upper lip drama still exciting. To think it nearly got pulled because before release a submarine went down in The Thames estuary with the loss of many lives.

Lt. Cmdr. Armstrong (John Mills - The Way to the Stars) and Lt. Manson (Nigel Patrick) take the HMS Trojan and their men out on routine exercise, a 6 hour training mission aboard the submarine. But an encounter with an old mine leaves them stricken on the sea bed with only a small area unflooded and only 12 survivors in total. As they wait to hear for the sounds of a rescue the pressure intensifies as the lack of space leads to claustrophobia but that is not their only worry.

George Cole and Richard Attenborough in Morning Departure (1950)

In a way "Morning Departure" is a predecessor of the disaster movie which would dominate the 70s. The intro sets up various characters from Armstrong agreeing to his wife's requests to think about retiring from the Navy to Stoker Snipe having to deal with a wife who is living above their means. And to be honest it is a bit slow going as you wonder where it is all going especially when we get introduced to Cmdr. Gates and Lt. Cmdr. James who are back at shore. But then we have the encounter with the mine and the next thing we know is that the Trojan is on the sea bed and most of the crew are dead, drowned in sealed chambers.

So this is where "Morning Departure" splits in two as we get both sides of the situation, we see the drama aboard the sub and also the rescue mission above the waves. The rescue mission is fascinating as we learn things you probably wouldn't think of such as how they get an airline into the sub and also the series of signals from depth charges to spanners tapping on the hull to communicate. Plus we also see the difficulty of the salvage as tides and weather have to be considered leading to safety concerns for those men who are doing the salvage operation.

And then there is the other side which is aboard the sub where tension rises as we watch Stoker Snipe suffer from claustrophobia, panicking in the enclosed situation. But whilst we have this drama we also have the drama of how they escape and how some have to stay behind and wait for salvage. It is all very well written to bring to life the situation of a sunken submarine and as we watch those left behind become friends despite rank, you can feel that sense of camaraderie and friendship.

Now "Morning Departure" has a serious amount of talent and some such as Kenneth More, George Cole, Bernard Lee are in relatively small parts. Without giving anything away the performances which make it so good are those from John Mills, Richard Attenborough, James Hayter and Nigel Patrick because it is their 4 characters who remain in the sub waiting for it to be salvaged. These 4 all put in first class performances from Mills giving us initial snobbish as Armstrong to Hayter giving us typical working class seaman as Higgins.

What this all boils down to is that "Morning Departure" is a surprisingly good movie and one which deserves to be better known. Director Roy Ward Baker has created real atmosphere as we watch the men aboard the stricken submarine wait for rescue whilst we also get the desperate nature above the waves as progress is slow.