Saturday, October 25, 2014

1980 Week: The Sea Wolves

          Several veterans of the highly enjoyable military adventure The Wild Geese (1978)—including director Andrew V. McLaglen, star Roger Moore, and screenwriter Reginald Rose—reteamed for the offbeat World War II adventure The Sea Wolves. In fact, the original plan was to reunite all three main stars of The Wild Geese: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Moore. Alas, it wasn’t to be, so Moore costars in The Sea Wolves with the considerably older David Niven and Gregory Peck. As it happens, Niven and Peck are more appropriate casting, notwithstanding Peck being an American, since the story dramatizes a real-life incident during which a group of retired British cavalry officers were recruited for an espionage mission against the Nazis. Additionally, Niven and Peck had collaborated to strong effect in a previous manly-man adventure picture, 1961’s The Guns of Navarone.
          The Sea Wolves has a certain genteel charm owing to its old-fashioned presentation of Allied heroism and Axis treachery. However, the absence of the modern tonalities that McLaglen and Rose utilized so well in The Wild Geese—angsty antiheroes, twisted international politics—makes The Sea Wolves seem overly tame. The filmmakers’ attempts at integrating lighthearted comedy into the mix further diminish the life-or-death gravitas needed to make the derring-do scenes work. At its worst, the movie is flat and forgettable.
          Set in India, the picture begins by showing U-boats sinking British tankers, thus interrupting key Allied supply lines. British spies determine that information about the tankers is emanating from a radio transmitter hidden somewhere a port controlled by the neutral country of Portugal, meaning that no official invasion force can be sent to dismantle the transmitter. This situation gives rise to the bold idea of recruiting soldiers from the Calcutta Light Horse, many of whom are retired and living in India. Eager for another shot at military action, aging enlisted men train for their mission while the Light Horse’s officers—played by Moore, Niven, and Peck—conduct espionage in order to learn the exact location of the transmitter.
          Despite the tremendous appeal of the leading actors, The Sea Wolves is bogged down with predictable plotting and uninspired staging. Furthermore, the chemistry between the leads never clicks quite the way it did between the stars of The Wild Geese. Moore seems like he’s a generation apart from his costars, Niven looks bored, and Peck seems frustrated at playing such a vapid role after getting so much room to stretch in his two previous films, MacArthur (1977) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). One also suspects that McLaglen was exhausted after having directed two elaborate films—the larky ffolkes and the leaden Breakthrough—in the year prior to making the equally complex The Sea Wolves. Whatever the reasons, The Sea Wolves is watchable but a disappointment nonetheless.

The Sea Wolves: FUNKY

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