Cast & Crew
At the start of World War II, Cmdr. Ericson is assigned to convoy escort HMS Compass Rose with inexperienced officers and men just out of training. The winter seas make life miserable enough, but the men must also harden themselves to rescuing survivors of U-Boat attacks, while seldom able to strike back. Traumatic events afloat and ashore create a warm bond between the skipper and his first officer. Atmospheric sea footage.
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Cruel Sea
The Cruel Sea (1953) is based on one of the great bestsellers of its day, the 1951 novel of the same title by Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979). Son of a noted Liverpool surgeon and medical school dean, Monsarrat studied at Cambridge and became a moderately successful writer in his youth. The turning point in his life (and his writing) was his service in the Royal Navy, which he joined in 1940. He eventually became a Lieutenant Commander, serving in the North Atlantic. His experiences, partly fictionalized, became the basis of several books, among them H.M. Corvette (1942), East Coast Corvette (1943) and his best-known book, The Cruel Sea. Character psychology was never Monsarrat's strong point as a writer; it could be argued that in some respects the film adaptation of The Cruel Sea is an improvement over the plot-heavy novel. Occasionally Monsarrat's works earned accusations of chauvinism, particularly The Tribe That Lost Its Head (1956) and Richer Than All His Tribe (1968), a pair of satiric parables set in Africa that some have viewed as implicit justifications for colonial rule.
For the film adaptation of The Cruel Sea, Monsarrat stipulated that the rights should be awarded to a British production company. While a British company couldn't offer as much for the rights as a major Hollywood studio, Monsarrat bet on the future success of the film by accepting a percentage of its earnings. Michael Balcon, the head of production at Ealing Studios, recommended Charles Frend as the director. Frend had started his career as an editor on several of Alfred Hitchcock's British pictures and later directed such films as the wartime sea drama San Demetrio, London (1943) and the true-life adventure Scott of the Antarctic (1948). One of the greatest difficulties encountered during the production of The Cruel Sea was securing an authentic corvette for the shoot. The Admiralty no longer kept any corvettes in its fleet and one on loan to the Greek navy had to be brought in from Malta.
Acclaimed British actor Jack Hawkins, best known for his appearances in films such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), was transformed into a star thanks to his performance here as Ericson. Especially notable is the scene where he gets drunk and bares his soul to Lieutenant Lockhart. Denholm Elliott and Virginia McKenna, who were married at the time (they divorced in 1957), similarly received a boost in their careers due to the success of this film. McKenna is best known today for her roles in A Town Like Alice (1956), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), and the popular family drama Born Free (1966).
Producer: Leslie Norman
Director: Charles Frend
Script: Eric Ambler, based on the novel by Nicholas Monsarrat
Art Direction: Jim Morahan
Editing: Peter Tanner
Music: Alan Rawsthorne
Sound: Stephen Dalby and Leo Wilkins
Costume Design: Anthony Mendleson
Principal Cast: Jack Hawkins (Lieutenant Commander Ericson), Donald Sinden (Lieutenant Lockhart), Denholm Elliott (Lieutenant Morell), John Stratton (Ferraby), Stanley Baker (Bennett), Virginia McKenna (Julie Hallam), Moira Lister (Elaine Morell), Liam Redmond (Jim Watts), Bruce Seton (Bob Tallow), Meredith Edwards (Yeoman Wells), Megs Jenkins (Glad Tallow), Alec McCowen (Tonbridge).
By James Steffen
The Cruel Sea
If you were in it, you knew all about it. You knew how to keep watch on filthy nights, and how to go without sleep; how to bury the dead, and how to die without wasting anyone's time.- Lt. Cmdr. Ericson
If anyone else makes a noise, I'll have his guts for a necktie.- Tallow
The Compass Rose was played by HMS Crocus.