Three navy veterans drift into smuggling in the bleak economic climate of post-World War II Britain. Initially they carry only innocuous contraband items like wine, which are in short supply on the English black market, but through the greed and arrogance of George Hoskins, one of trio, they get involved with the corrupt Major Fordyce, who brings them higher-risk cargoes like counterfeit currency and automatic weapons. At first, Bill Randall, skipper of the 1087, compromises his conscience by turning a blind eye to the morality their actions, but has a crisis of conscience when he discovers that the nervous, suspicious-looking man they smuggled across the channel is a child murderer and apparent pedophile. He and Birdie, the ship's mechanic, decide that they've had enough.
Richard Attenborough ... George Hoskins
George Baker ... Bill Randall (skipper of 1087 / narrator
Bill Owen ... Birdie (coxswain of 1087)
Virginia McKenna ... Helen Randall
Roland Culver ... Maj. Fordyce
Bernard Lee ... Customs Officer Brewster
Ralph Truman ... Sir Richard
John Chandos ... Raines (fugitive killer)
Harold Goodwin ... Customs officer #2
John Longden ... Detective
Ten years after the end of the second world war Dearden and Relph brought to the screen this parable depicting Britain's decline since the victory over Fascism.Half a century further on the determination,courage,refusal to contemplate defeat and the unity that enabled that victory to be won live on only in the memories of people old enough to have lived through it. Today indifference,self-preservation, expedience and diversity are the words we live by. Somewhere between those two extremes the good ship 1087 self-destructed with shame at the way that the promise of the peace that had been brought about at so high a cost had gradually become more and more corrupted. The promise of Attlee's government,the Olympic Games and the Festival of Britain descended into spivvery.From being a defender of everything that was decent and right 1087 gradually turned to smuggling drugs and criminals. "The ship that died of shame" is a remarkable picture.It was made by people who loved films for an audience that was just starting to prefer an evening at home in front of the TV to a visit to the cinema. Mr Richard Attenborough,Miss Virginia Mckenna and Mr George Baker had the drawing power to fill the theatre.War films were very good box-office.It was a major success,helped no end by the fact that the original story was written by Nicholas Monsarrat,author of the hugely popular "The Cruel Sea". Mr Attenborough had a longer career in naval uniform than most real sailors.By 1955 he could stand on a heaving deck like a 20 year man. The following year he would make his naval magnum opus "The baby and the battleship" with long-time oppo Mr John Mills who must have been doing something really important not to have been cast in this. His sudden realisation of what he had become is like Alec Guinness's in "Bridge on the River Kwai". Miss McKenna with her strong English face and striking eyes exhudes honesty and dignity in every film she graces.Despite not being one of her best known performances it is one of my favourites. Mr George Baker had just about everything going for him,good looks, natural athleticism,beautiful speaking voice and an air of authority. He,too,looks at home on a ship,wearing a roll-neck pullover and smoking a "Navy Cut". This is a very taut film.By that I don't mean that it suspenseful - even though it is - but that there is no flab on it.
The scene where Mr Roland Culver as "The Major" shoots Mr.Bernard Lee could not have been bettered by Hitchcock.The influence of the Master of Suspense is apparent several times throughout the film. "The ship that died of shame" is yet another fine British film that has disappeared off the radar.It would indeed be a shame if it was allowed to die.
Spoilers. The title pretty much says it all. Ship 1087 is the British equivalent of an American MTB, operating in the English channel as a patrol boat, rescue vessel, escort, and what have you. While similar craft occasionally break down or are hard on the wheel, old 1087 is fast and reliable and gets its crew out of bad scrapes, as if it were a sentient and benificent force. The end of the war sees its crew dispersed and a bit disgruntled, and the boat itself winds up in a graveyard. One of the hands, Attenborough, runs into two of the former crew in a pub and persuades them to buy the old 1087, spruce her up, and use her to engage in a bit of minor smuggling, a few crates of choice wine now and then, just to keep the old boat going and its peacetime crew in cash. No harm to anybody, don't you know. But Sir Dickie, now more or less skipper of the boat, is sucked into running stuff rather murkier than Chateau neuf du Pape. He begins working in cahoots with a more dangerous ex-army man, and finds himself now transporting guns and then fugitive child murderers. Challenged by the two other hands, he replies, "I'll take care of business. You take care of the boat." Well, things just go rotten after that. Hunted down by the authorities, the Major plugs the coastguard officer. When the third hand, Raines, who maintains the engines, tries to leave, the Major plugs him as well. The protagonist, Randall, a basically good guy, plugs the Major. Sir Dickie and Randall have it out on the deck of old 1087, now heaving up and down in a heavy sea. Dickie tumbles overboard but manages to catch hold of a stanchion. Randall reaches down to pull him back aboard but old 1087 gives a sudden lurch and yanks Dickie into the sea before apparently dropping its still spinning screws on him. The boat then dies of shame. The boat of course is a symbol of the moral status of its crew. During the war it looks spiffy and performs superbly. Engaged in smuggling, its engines begin to fail more and more often, and it developes other quirks. It's all a bit on the heavy handed side, but it's not an uninteresting movie. Some nice shots of the boat, long and sleek, at sea, and some engaging scenes of combat near the beginning. Overall, this sort of story isn't surprising coming from Nicholas Monseratt, but it isn't the kind of movie we usually associate with Ealing Studios. It's worth catching if it's on, and it's not on TV very often.