Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Cruel Sea

I did a strange thing yesterday evening. For a long time I have wanted a .wav of Jack Hawkins shouting "Open Fire" in the war movie "The Cruel Sea" (for purely personal use, you understand - I also spent years trying to find a .wav of Terry-Thomas saying "You're an abosolute shower!").

My memory of the film, addled by several semi-conscious persuals of it on Sunday afternoon, is that Hawkins spends virtually the whole film shouting "Open Fire".

Recently Channel 4, bless them, re-screened "The Cruel Sea" during the afternoon. We duly recorded it and yesterday, during one of my "Home alone" sojourns, I watched it, audio recorder in hand.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. All the commands (but one) to fire guns and depth charges are actually spoken in quite measured English tones by the Number Two officer played by a remarkably young-looking Donald Sinden.

Jack Hawkins, I think (because even watching it this time I managed to doze off at one point) only actually shouts "Open Fire" once, when the Germans emerge from their stricken U Boat and the British crew are cheering.

The other thing which surprised me was that I hardly remembered any of the film. This, as I say, is probably explained by the fact that Sunday afternoon Ealing films were always looked upon, in my family's house, as a great opportunity to catch up on the "zeds".

It is actually a great film. Jack Hawkins is just unbelievably good in it. What an actor he was! Sadly, he lost his fantastic voice in the end, through cancer. One of the last things he was able to say properly was "You stupid bugger!", which he shouted at a cab driver who had nearly knocked him down on his way to the cancer hospital in London.

So I am now formally promoting "The Cruel Sea" to be my favourite Second World War film. That honour was previously a toss up between "Reach for the Sky" and "Battle of Britain" (mainly because I have always been a great Kenneth More fan) but I am from a sea-faring family, so "The Cruel Sea" is fitting.

I would also mention that the eponymous book on which the film "The Cruel Sea" was based is worth reading. It was written by Nicholas Monsarrat, who was an Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Lieutenant Commander. If you want to get an idea of the hell which sailors went through during the war, read that book. It really does make one grateful to have lived without the necessity of fighting for one's country.

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