Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Port Of Seven Seas

port of seven seas indexWith a title like the above you might imagine this is a sea faring yarn filled with swashbuckling antics and all manner of exciting adventure, but the opposite applies. Directed by James Whale of Universal’s Frankenstein fame, it’s a stagey affair and clearly based on a play, as most of the film takes place in a couple of locations and it’s not exactly the most action packed of films.

Adapted by Preston Sturges it’s an often amusing effort at least, as after his son Marius (John Beal) can’t resist the call of the sea both his girlfriend Madelon (Maureen O’Sullivan) and his father Cesar (Wallace Beery) are rather unimpressed by him leaving without even telling them face to face. Marius selfishly asks Madelon to wait three years for his return, but to complicate matters Cesar’s friend Panisse (Frank Morgan) is madly in love with Madelon, and after he proposes she says yes, if only because she is pregnant with Marius’s child.

Cesar doesn’t exactly condone the relationship given the age difference between Panisse and Madelon, and as friends go he’s not exactly the subtlest of fellows either, telling Panisse that as he has no children “Your life is like a bunch of dried raisins”. Cesar’s hiding how hurt he is by Marius leaving him which partially explains why he’s so blunt when it comes to Panisse, though when he learns that Panisse is doing an honourable thing as Madelon is pregnant he slowly comes round, to the extent that when Marius inevitably returns in the third act and declares his love for Madelon it doesn’t pan out in the way you’d expect.

It’s a curious piece, one which studies the importance of fatherhood, family and the nature of acting honourably, but those elements only make up a small part of the film, at least until the end when they become far more prevalent. The rest of the time it revolves around Cesar bickering and bantering with his friends, which could have been quite tedious but thanks to Sturges’ skill with dialogue it’s consistently funny, even if little does happen.

As well as the strength of the dialogue it’s a film that lives or dies on the basis of the performances and thankfully all are on their best form, Maureen O’Sullivan’s Madelon is sweet if naïve, Frank Morgan’s Panisse is quite gentle and very sympathetic, while Wallace Beery’s Cesar is grumpy and surly but he manages to create a lot of laughs because of this. In the scheme of things its not up there with Sturges best work by any means, but it’s certainly of value, especially as an insight in to morality in the nineteen thirties.

★★★1/4

Alex Finch.
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