THE SEA CHASE (1955) is an oddball mid-'50s John Wayne film, with Wayne playing the German captain of a tramp steamer at the start of World War II.
Captain Karl Ehrlich (Wayne) and his ship, the Ergenstrasse, slip out of Sydney Harbor just after the declaration of war between Germany and Britain. Ehrlich has quite a quandary: he's an unpopular man in Germany due to his anti-Hitler stance, but if he's caught by the British he'll be interned for the duration.
Also aboard the ship is Elsa Keller (Lana Turner), a beautiful Nazi intelligence agent who likewise needs to urgently leave Sydney. Before long sparks are flying between Karl and Elsa.
The British ship Rockingham gives chase, with Ehrlich's friend Jeff Napier (David Farrar) aboard. Ehrlich outmaneuvers the British at every turn.
Unfortunately, when the crewmen find provisions at an island shipwreck station, slimy ship's officer Kirchner (Lyle Bettger) shoots the British men at the station in cold blood. The discovery of the bodies makes the British even more determined to catch the Ergenstrasse. Ehrlich only belatedly learns what Kirchner has done and intends to return to Germany and have Kirchner court-martialed.
Fate, however, has another plan in mind and one dark night on the North Sea the British catch up...
It took a little while for me to wrap my head around the notion of the Duke as a German, but okay then. The movie's real problem is that there's not enough "chase" and way too much talk. The film moves at a snail's pace, building to a rather inexplicable ending.
Director John Farrow made some excellent suspense films, from FIVE CAME BACK (1939) to THE BIG CLOCK (1948), but he's never able to ratchet up the excitement in THE SEA CHASE. Some of the problem is the meandering script by James Warner Bellah and John Twist, based on a book by Andrew Geer.
Things perk up briefly when there's a shark attack, but when one of the most interesting things in the film is an ingenious plan to lure rats off the ship, you've got trouble. As a fan of both Wayne and Turner, I was really hoping for more from this film, but it never goes much of anywhere, more's the pity.
On the up side, the film has a great crisp look, filmed by regular Wayne cinematographer William Clothier in WarnerColor and CinemaScope. Lana Turner and the Hawaiian locations are lovely.
It's also enjoyable seeing frequent Wayne costars including Paul Fix, John Qualen, and James Arness, as well as Maureen O'Hara's brother James, who also appeared in THE QUIET MAN (1952). The cast also includes Tab Hunter, Claude Akins, Robert Doucette, Alan Hale Jr., Peter Whitney, and Lowell Gilmore.
A side question: did Lyle Bettger ever play anything but creeps?!
THE SEA CHASE has had multiple DVD releases, as a single-title release in the John Wayne Collection and as a double feature with BLOOD ALLEY (1955). It was also released on VHS.
This movie is also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen at IMDb.