Film Reviews

The Ship That Died of Shame (1955) – Blu-ray Review

New from Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics range is a Blu-ray release of the 1955 Ealing Studios film The Ship That Died of Shame. When we think of Ealing, we tend to think of comedies such as The Ladykillers; small, quirky slices of British nostalgia with an engaging level of farce threaded through proceedings. In the event, this genre accounted only for around a third of the studios output, and what we have here is a lean crime thriller set in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The first third of the circa 95-minute running time deals with the end of the conflict, where the 1087, a Royal Navy motor gun boat, is under the command of Bill Randall (George Baker), with George Hoskins (Richard Attenborough) second in command, and Birdie (Bill Owen – yes, Compo from Last of the Summer Wine) acting as something like the ship’s main technician.

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We see a couple of their missions, as well as see some of Bill’s downtime as he gets a few days off to spend with his wife, Helen (Virginia McKenna). There is the clear impression that they have yet to have much time together since marrying. Helen longs to build a home for them and hopes she will not be a disappointment to him. This becomes relevant when they come home from the second mission to find an air raid taking place. When Bill returns to the house they have been loaned for the week, he finds his bride dead after a direct hit on the property.

The next hour deals with the period after the war. Bill is enduring his life, having lost all purpose, plus his role on the 1087, now the war has ended; George appears to have done well financially, through some clearly unsavoury underworld links; whilst Birdie, is still Birdie, available to work on the boat when Bill and George manage to buy back the decommissioned vessel. The dynamic develops that Bill provides the boat, while George sets the mission, which begins as smuggling items like wine – items missing the tax payment. This attracts the attention of a Customs Officer, Brewster (Bernard Lee), though at this stage they are able to go about their business.

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Events take a turn for the more serious when Hoskins begins accepting missions from Major Fordyce (Roland Culver), who our crew first encounter in a failed piracy attempt from the senior officer’s crew. Now George has them involved with weapons and counterfeit money. The final straw for Bill comes with the carrying of human cargo, in the person of a child killer, Raines (John Chandos). With the normally dependable 1087 starting to break down, the relationship between Bill and George fraught, Fordyce providing a sinister and threatening presence, and Customs closing in on them, how will things end? – in particular for Bill and Birdie: decent men who just lacked purpose after the war.

This is a film from towards the end of Ealing’s run of success, and is directed by Basil Dearden, probably best known for The Blue Lamp, which introduced the world to Dixon of Dock Green. His final film was The Man Who Haunted Himself – Roger Moore’s finest work outside of the Bond franchise. As can be expected from his CV, this is an accomplished work, with decent pacing, fine acting, and surprisingly good miniature work for the era, when recreated ship battles and air attacks on villages would have provided a challenge.

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The pacing of the film is fine, if with an overlong opening act, and it sports decent action for what would have been a relatively inexpensive project. Baker, Attenborough, Lee, and McKenna represent a terrific cast, and Studiocanal have presented a film that, at 68 years of age, looks terrific, with a clear picture, good contrast, and a crisp, clean soundtrack. They have done the film itself – a good if unremarkable work – proud.

Extras are scant with a fairly standard example of an image gallery, and one featurette. This being an interview with film professor Neil Sinyard. Although, again, fairly typical of its type, this an enjoyable 23-minute talking head that makes effective use of its running time. Sinyard tells us of the mix of output from this studio and where it was in its lifespan by this point. He is also excellent value on the film’s participants, as well as a thoughtful commentator on the film itself.

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This leaves us with a relatively good-looking film, on a release that is around three times the price of a streaming option. For that reason alone, we recommend the film, but not this release. A Google search followed by viewing a stream will give the viewer just as much at a lower costs. For completists only.

The Ship That Died of Shame is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 11th September from Studiocanal.

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