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Decks Ran Red, The
DirectorAndrew L. Stone
Release Date(s)1958 (June 4, 2013)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Archive)
All history is divided between winners and losers and film history is no exception. When you look back over the past century-plus of cinema, the classics and the fiascoes are well documented. Even if you haven’t seen them, you know their names and reputations. But that approach allows a lot of movies to slip through the cracks, solidly entertaining programmers that aren’t exactly great but are still worthy of attention. Often, the fact that so little is known about them works in their favor. They can sneak up on you and impress you just by being well-constructed and enjoyable. The seafaring adventure The Decks Ran Red falls solidly into that category.
James Mason stars as Edwin Rummill, first officer on a luxury liner who is finally promoted to captain of his own ship. The only catch is that the ship is a tramp steamer, the SS Berwind, whose former captain just died under mysterious circumstances. Capt. Rummill takes command of a surly crew that’s turning mutinous thanks to the machinations of scheming Broderick Crawford and Stuart Whitman. They plan to whip the crew into a frenzy, get rid of Rummill, then waterlog the ship and kill the entire crew. After which, they’ll bring the “derelict” into harbor and collect a big payday.
Mason’s first executive decision makes things even easier for Crawford and Whitman. Left without a cook or chief steward, he hires a local Maori and his wife (Joel Fluellen and Dorothy Dandridge) to replace them. The sultry Dandridge is wildly out of place among the all-male crew and Whitman does his best to seduce her and drive Fluellen mad with jealous rage.
The film was written and directed by Andrew L. Stone with a minimum of frills. The atmosphere is suitably claustrophobic and the tension is fairly high. Dorothy Dandridge is unfortunately wasted in an underwritten role that doesn’t require her to do anything other than look sexy (which, of course, she does). The real show here is between Mason and Crawford, polar opposites in terms of physicality and demeanor who are well-matched as adversaries. Crawford was nearing the end of his run on the popular TV series Highway Patrol and seems to be relishing the opportunity to play a real sociopath. His scheme may not seem all that practical when you stop to think about it but Crawford plays it with such conviction that you feel like if anybody could pull it off, it’s this guy.
The (mostly) black and white picture looks solid in a nice 16x9 enhanced transfer. No complaints on the mono sound, either. Don’t expect a boat-load of extras but Warner Archive did manage to uncover the original trailer for this one.
The Decks Ran Red is a fun, interesting little picture that almost certainly would never be made today. The story isn’t vast enough for today’s big screen. But it’s right at home on DVD and makes for a highly enjoyable weekend matinee.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke