John Wayne, known as The Duke, is famously known for his take on the Western genre in film. With such popular films as The Searchers and Rio Bravo, there was a point in Wayne’s career where he ventured into other genres. The Sea Chase is a perfect example of The Duke stepping out his typical Western boots. The Duke plays German freighter captain Karl Ehrlich who is a proud German citizen despite being anti-Nazi. While leaving Sydney, Australia with his vessel, the Ergenstrasse, Ehrlich hopes to outrun the British warship pursuing him. Aboard his vessel is Elsa Keller, played by Lana Turner, a mysterious woman who must be returned to Germany along with her secrets. Along the way, a member of Ehrlich’s vessel, a Nazi chief officer, commits a crime that makes the pursuit even more deadly.
As someone who grew up with watching The Duke ride horses through hot scorching deserts in a cowboy hat and wielding a pistol, I’ve never sought out a film that The Duke starred in that wasn’t a Western. The Sea Chase is my first venture into some of The Duke’s smaller known films. As happy as I am to have the opportunity to venture out and view some lesser known John Wayne films, I’ll say that I still prefer his classics over this.
John Wayne co-stars alongside the beautiful and talented Lana Turner and their relationship is tested very early on. By setting up a rocky relationship from the start, it allows for the two characters to build a connection despite it seeming doomed from the beginning. Unfortunately, the two main leads suffer from very little on-screen chemistry to make it a realistic relationship. The two lovers lack passion and sparks when their first kiss appears on screen and instead they seem almost chilly towards each other.
John Wayne plays the sea captain fairly well and offers a grand heroic role he’s been known for in the past. He doesn’t identify as a Nazi, but is still a proud German and Wayne plays those characteristics up very well. He doesn’t have to give up reasons as to why he feels this way, he just shows us, which is a terrific way to approach his character. Although Wayne plays the character very well, it is rather hard to believe Wayne as a German ship captain.
With the title using the word “chase,” it lacks thrilling chase scenes to back it up. John Wayne must outrun British ships, but there’s not even one point in the movie where it feels as if Ehrlich and his crew are actually being threatened. There are a few scenes sprinkled throughout where Wayne must plan his upcoming maneuvers against the British ships, but it never plays out as a grand maneuver The Duke was known for. The film moves along with little suspense and never does a scene makes a lasting impression on me.
The Sea Chase is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection and the presentation is crisp. For a film completed in 1955, the film does a spectacular job showcasing the breathtaking sea scenes. The film was shot in Cinemascope during a major transition in Hollywood when companies were trying to compete with television. The transfer result for this new Blu-ray release is stunning. Scenes throughout offer a crisp clean look at close up actors like John Wayne and wide shots of his ship and surrounding waters. There is a little distortion when scenes sweep from left to right or vice versa and at times it takes a while to completely focus on the actors involved which results in some grainy scenes throughout. The Sea Chase arrives with a stereo track encoded in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0. It doesn’t sound like new films but the dialog is clearly rendered and the action scenes are amplified to add excitement throughout. Sadly, there are no special features for this classic John Wayne film besides the trailer, which also has been remastered.
The Warner Archive Collection’s presentation of The Sea Chase is a clear and faithful restoration of a lesser known John Wayne film. The film offers some decent performances but it truly lacks any exciting chase scenes and has weak chemistry between the two main leads. It certainly was nice to view a film that wasn’t Wayne in his typical Western role, but unfortunately, I’d stick with the roles that made him famous.
The Warner Archive generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray of the film for reviewing purposes.