Wayne is All at Sea
"The Sea Chase" is a good movie but one with a big problem, John Wayne. Now the trouble is that not only does it feel plainly wrong to watch John Wayne playing a German but because we basically have John Wayne playing John Wayne, tough as nails, hard but respected and a man who can attract the sexiest of women it turns what could have been a tense drama into something more generic, a typical John Wayne movie but one which has him at sea instead of in the West.
With World War II about starts German steam boat Captain Karl Ehrlich (John Wayne - The High and the Mighty) plans to sneak out of Sydney Australia with his crew aboard his old boat the Ergenstrasse. A proud German but an Anti-Nazi Ehrlich finds himself not only trying to outrun a pursuing British warship manned by his long time friend Commander Jeff Napier (David Farrar - Black Narcissus) but also having to ferry Elsa Keller (Lana Turner - The Bad and the Beautiful) back to Germany on the orders of the high Consul. But when Ehrlich's pro-Nazi Chief Officer Kirchner (Lyle Bettger) murders some ship wrecked mariners the British now have another reason to hunt Ehrlich down.
"The Sea Chase" spins an interesting aspect on the whole war as we have German Captain Karl Ehrlich and British Commander Jeff Napier, family friends who due to the war find them on opposing sides. And with the fact that Karl happens to be an anti-Nazi adds to that little bit of difference which in a way softens the blow of watching John Wayne cast as a German in a war movie, something which feels so wrong.
But that is just the introduction and the meat of "The Sea Chase" is purely about Karl trying to keep his old steam ship one step ahead of the pursuing British ship with Napier on board. Along the way there are various dramas from Karl's crew beginning to hate him as he puts their lives at risk forcing them to smash up the lifeboats for fuel and injuries causing more tension. And there is also treachery which leads to Napier changing his opinion of his long time friend. All of which creates a nice array of drama which builds the tension nicely as Napier makes it his mission to hunt Karl and his ship down.
But then there is the other side to "The Sea Chase", the generic side as Karl finds himself with an extra passenger, Napier's fiancee Elsa Keller who he suspects of being a German agent. If you can't guess what happens then you haven't seen many John Wayne movies because whilst there is antagonism between Karl and Elsa they end up falling for each other. As I said it is the generic side to the story which whilst adding a touch of romance and drama doesn't really add anything new.
Now the irony is that John Wayne gives a solid performance as German Captain Karl Ehrlich, it is a typical John Wayne performance of a character which is made to be a very typical John Wayne character. Okay so Wayne doesn't do a German accent but then I don't really remember hearing anyone trying to deliver a German twang to their dialogue. But the fact is John Wayne playing a German, even on who is Anti-Nazi feels so wrong and I am sure there were more suitable actors who could have added something different to the movie had they been cast. And unfortunately because "The Sea Chase" basically ends up John Wayne playing a typical John Wayne character the rest of the cast don't make an impression with the exception of Lana Turner who as the only female certainly makes an impact, but only for her looks.
What this all boils down to is that "The Sea Chase" could have been a very good movie which put an interesting dramatic spin on a friendship between a German and a Brit as war commenced. But instead what we get is quite a typical John Wayne movie which to be blunt is only memorable for John Wayne being wrongly cast as a German.