The Long Voyage Home (John Ford, 1940)


John Wayne playing a Swede 😆

But, when Wayne’s “yahs” weren’t making me cringe, I was admiring just the sheer atmosphere of “The Long Voyage Home”, where even the great John Ford and the great Gregg Toland damn near outdid themselves with the production value.  That first scene is as great as everyone says it is – the seductive native girls hanging out on the shore practically grinding the trees, Wayne and his merry band of seamen surveying the view from their cozy little boat, saying nothing as the fog and darkness and exotic music gives us all the atmosphere we need – the mood is set without a single word needing to be spoken.  And the moodiness and atmosphere really doesn’t let up from there.  I wasn’t much a fan of some story and dialogue choices – a few too many clichéd what’re-you-gonna-do-when-you-get-out or who’s-waiting-for-you-back-home or bedside you’re-gonna-be-just-fine moments – nor did I really like some rather over-the-top performances all-around, with stereotypes like the wise, stoic seaman dishing out cryptic advice to the hero or the jovial fat guy everyone looks up to or the shrimpy little guy who gets his panties in a twist about EVERYTHING, so nobody takes him seriously.  There really wasn’t a character, from Wayne’s impossibly shy Ollie on down, that stuck out for me, or that I could particularly like – or hate, for that matter.  It was like one big collective of overacting, though the reserved loner Smitty, who attracts the suspicion of the others, is the exception in a very nice and subtle performance by Ian Hunter.  Thankfully, all that nothing special-ness is helped along by that great atmosphere, and by those great Fordian staging and images that I’ve been busting a nut over for the past month, although Toland obviously deserves just as much credit for that for his cinematography –  he did only do “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Citizen Kane,” two of the greatest-photographed films ever made, in the same 2-year span as this 😉 .    When you hear nothing but the wind, the occasional foghorn, and the anchor scraping against the hull, and the faces of these severe-looking men are lit only from the bottom, and on the deck at night they’re not even men, but silhouettes, and they’re cramped together in those dark, seedy living quarters like they’re in a football huddle, yeah, I’d say every feeling from camaraderie to boredom to desperation to outright suspicion of the very men they call friends is pretty fucking palpable.  The men’s treatment of Smitty and a mysterious box he keeps under his bed one fateful night is particularly disgusting and tough to watch (I mean that as a compliment), and their drunken escapades, while over the top and drawn out too long, has a kind of warm intimacy to it.  A character who you’d think will be a major one, or maybe even the chief protagonist, by movie’s end, is out of the picture far sooner than you’d likely anticipate, and the story takes on a far different tone late in a port town, so to its credit, the movie’s not that predictable.  The production value and ambience, especially aboard the boat in the middle of the war-torn Atlantic, is impeccable, but there were still a few too many of those acting and dialogue 1940s-isms that never fail to irritate me.  But then again, late in the movie during a particularly bizarre situation involving a rival ship, I was really worried about what was gonna happen to Ollie, so if that isn’t an indication that I have no clue what I’m talking about, I don’t know what is.


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