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  • This is a good B-grade action feature that makes good use of an involved story of intrigue. It's an example of how low-budget, shabby looking sets can actually help the atmosphere if they go with the right story, and meanwhile the story itself moves at a decent pace as things gradually unfold.

    Barton MacLane and Leif Erickson are the stars and antagonists. MacLane is "Captain Scarface", who is masterminding an evil and destructive scheme, while Erickson is a character designed as a Bogart-type antihero who finds himself in the right place and time to try to stop it. Erickson is solid in his role, while MacLane seems to relish his slightly outlandish character, making him interesting and menacing, if not always fully believable.

    All of the action takes place either at a shabby-looking port-side hotel or on the captain's equally rundown-looking freighter. The no-frills look of both sets makes them believable and helps the atmosphere, since putting the characters in such settings implicitly makes them too seem rather small and tattered.

    The story itself is easily interesting enough to hold your attention for the running time of slightly more than an hour. The actual plot of the bad guys comes across as somewhat far-fetched, but it is mostly a device to drive the intrigue. The story telling has a few rough edges, as can sometimes be the case with movies of this kind, but it has more than enough pluses to cancel these out. It's definitely worth seeing if you like movies of the genre.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The film gets credit for it's slow and deliberate pacing in the early going, as it builds suspense toward the revelation of the plot to destroy the Panama Canal. You had to wonder what all the intrigue and mystery was about regarding Clegg (Paul Brinegar), Kroll (John Mylong), Sam Wilton (Leif Erickson) and the film's title character Captain Trednor/Scarface (Barton MacLane). It's not often you catch MacLane at the top of the credits, though he might have been upstaged in this one by Erickson as the hero of the piece. Still, he does a pretty good job when he's on screen, even if that German accent was somewhat distracting.

    The movie also did a nice job of explaining two key elements that might not have been offered in another film of the era where these kind of details weren't as important. For one, I was thinking about how the original Banos could have been blown up and disappeared without the authorities knowing, and that was handled competently by the Captain's explanation of Clegg's role to Wilton. Speaking of which, having Wilton's character portrayed as a former plantation foreman allowed for his proficiency with a machete. Too bad though about Mrs. Dilts, she seemed like a nice lady.

    That's not to say the picture didn't have it's share of outlandish elements. An atomic bomb on board a banana freighter? - I don't think so. And how did Scarface manage to secure all the right scientific looking equipment on board the fake Banos without some knowledge of atomic bomb technology? No need to get into that.

    Say, keep an eye on the handful of scenes starting with Wilton taking out the Captain, up to breaking into the radio room with Crofton; the sweat stains on his shirt and the bruise on his face change size and shape a number of times. Makes one wonder why those scenes weren't filmed one right after another.

    On balance though, I have no problem recommending this film for devotees of mystery and espionage, especially as a throwback to a time when Communist ideology threatened the very existence of the Western world - remember all those duck and cover drills in elementary school? Ah yes, the 1950's, you had to be there.
  • Hi, Everyone, Barton MacLane is always a good bad guy. He has adopted an interesting accent for this ocean journey black and white adventure. All the cast does well even though the fight scenes are somewhat slow.

    The plot is probably more believable today than it was 50 years ago. Some of the stock footage of the ships is very nice.

    If this were remade today with Steven Segal this would be a great action flick. I don't think it would be any better as far as the storytelling, but the special effects would be majestic. I like this version enough to watch it once a year without getting tired of it.

    Tom Willett
  • sol-kay11 June 2007
    Warning: Spoilers
    (Some Spoilers) One of many likewise movies released during the Cold War about the Commies, at home as well as in the USSR, trying to do their utmost to not only destroy our way of life. In this case destroy our, the Free Worlds, transportation centers and cause world wide panic and economic chaos by blowing up the vital Panama Canal. This will cause US shipping to travel almost 8,000 miles around South America, from San Fancisco to New York City, to get where it has to go without the use of the short-cut canal.

    Having blown up the banana boat "Banos" and replaced it with a ringer, another boat that looks just like it, the Communist operative Captain "Scarface" Trednor, Barton MacLane, is planning to use it as a guided missile, with him doing the guiding, by plowing it into the locks of the Panama Canal. Setting off an atomic device that he has hidden on the ship Capt. Scarface plans to blow himself his crew and the canal to smithereens. The captain just has one little problem he needs someone who knows just what button, the red or the blue, to push to both activate and set the bomb off!

    Having gotten German nuclear physicist Dr. Yager, Raldolph Anders, out of a Soviet Gulag the Commies want to dupe him into pushing the button by threatening to murder his daughter Isa, Virginia Grey, if he doesn't. Things would have gone all down hill for the good guys, the Free and Democratic World, if it wasn't for this scuzzy looking ship-hand Clegg, Paul Brineger. Scarface wanted to screw Clegg out of his pay in doing the Captains dirty work, sinking and killing everyone on the "Banos". It's that capitalistic disease, wanting to get paid for working, that in the end did the Scarface crew in by bringing the hero of the movie All-American, blond and blue eyed, Sam Wilton (Leif Erickson) on board. Sam had his own troubles and they didn't have to do with him having the burden on his head of saving the free world.

    With Clegg confronting this Soviet Agent Kroll, John Mylong, in his hotel room whom Scarface told him to contact, in getting his pay, he ended up killing Kroll. Clegg is then shot and killed himself, by the hotel manager, where Sam is staying and looking to check out of the country, San Brejo. Sam finds a golden opportunity in getting his hands on the dead Krolls passport and using it to get on the banana boat "Banos" to take him back to the states; not realizing that it's set to go off in a nuclear explosion at the entrance of the Panama Canal Zone. The rest of the movie has Sam impersonating Kroll and then finding out that he's, Kroll, not only a commie. The ships Captain Scarface is using Kroll to talk the very reluctant Dr. Yarger, who the real Kroll supposedly helped escaped from a Soviet Gulag, to push the magic button.

    With Isa on board we also have the handsome and clean cut looking Sam get to win her over, after she at first thought that he was that rotten Commie swine Kroll, and together with her and a number of other passenger Sam gets the drop on Scarface and his Commie. In the end has his entire mad and grandiose plan ends up at the bottom the Bermuda Triangle. Sam & Co. finally puts an end to this whole master plan on the part of Scarface and his Commie leaders in Moscow. Scarface and his commie cohorts who for all their smarts just couldn't find anyone, this in 1953 when the Soviet Union had both the Atomic and Hydrogen bomb, who knows where to push the right button in order to blow up the Panama Canal.
  • This is the kind of movie Humphrey Bogart could have starred in. You just have to think Leif Erickson (the Sam Wilton Character) = Humphrey. Here you have it all... exotic locale, beautiful damsel, Communist secret agents, the mystery ship.

    Captain Scarface is really fun if you watch it while imagining what it would have been like with Bogie in it.

    There are only so many movies that we, today, can hold up as the icons of the era of the 1940's to 1950's. You can't idolize them all, and for some reason, just about any movie with Bogie in it seems to suit peoples' subjective criterion of greatness. The golden age of black and white movies yielded a ton of dramas that kept people heading for the local movie theater. No, they weren't all classics, but who cares? I'd much rather watch Captain Scarface for the first time than Casablanca one more time again.
  • It's pretty obvious as you watch CAPTAIN SCARFACE that the film was made for a relatively small budget and starred lesser actors. It's also obvious that the "big name talent" for the film (Barton MacLane) was given a very weird and unconvincing role in the film. He plays Captain Scarface--a Russian maniac who sounded most of the time like he was doing a Bela Lugosi impersonation. While MacLane is a fine villain in films, he never really had a lot of range--this assignment was clearly outside his abilities. However, despite this as well as a rather abrupt ending to the movie, the film does work reasonably well--thanks to good writing.

    The plot involves a duplicated merchant ship that replaced the real one once it was torpedoed. The plan is to sail this fake cargo ship into the Panama Canal and explode an atomic bomb on board. The baddies are all Russian Communists bent on harming America. However, what the Ruskies don't know is that an American (Leif Erickson) has replaced a Russian collaborator, as he is sure something is amiss with this strange boat. With Erickson's help, the few passengers aboard the ship learn that death awaits them and so they work together (mostly) to stop the attack.

    This film is an interesting curio from the Red Scare and came out the same year Stalin died. Today, many might see the film and laugh at its seemingly paranoid and silly plot, but at the time this sort of film appealed to fears that Communism would engulf the globe. It gives us some insight into the people and the times. And, unlike some propaganda films of the era, this one is reasonably well done and quite interesting. Well written, aside from a very abrupt ending, it's worth a look.

    By the way, you gotta love the way they chose names for this film. One of the guy's names is Perro ("dog") and the boat is called the El Baño (though it's missing proper accent mark) which means bathtub or bath. Pretty goofy.
  • wes-connors2 December 2007
    Russian Barton MacLane (as Captain Scarface) is a Communist spy who plans to destroy the Panama Canal. Mr. MacLane enlists the help of German scientist Rudolph Anders (as Yeager) by threatening the life of his daughter, Virginia Grey (as Ilse Yeager). Meanwhile, American Leif Erickson (as Sam Wilton) has switched identities with a sailing associate of MacLane, after his Comrade (John Mylong) finds himself on the receiving end of a lead shower. Mr. Erickson is looking for quick passage to America, for reasons of his own. They are all aboard "Captain Scarface" MacLane's ship, the "Banos", according the dastardly captain, "…to be blown to eternity together!"

    Not a bad story; but, it takes far too long to make sense. Howard Wendell and Isabel Randolph are most enjoyable, as passengers Fred and Kate Dilts; among other things, they help explain the opening explosion. "Captain Scarface" was, later, "General Peterson" on "I Dream of Jeannie".
  • Fun show to watch instead of the oft repeated reruns on TV.

    Saw it on TCM channel. No advertising was even better.

    The ship is the S.S. Banos.

    On the positive side, was it named after the city? Baños is located on the northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano.

    The city is named after the hydrothermal springs of mineral water located around the city.

    Baños, pronounced correctly in the movie, is also Spanish for bathrooms (plural).

    Unintended or ?
  • A Communist plot to destroy the Panama canal sees a number of passengers join forces in an attempt to overthrow the crew of a ship carrying an atom bomb en route, while an eminent doctor aboard the ship is blackmailed into activating the missile or risk the murder of his daughter.

    The dialogue is a bit juvenile, and MacLane seems to be hamming it up as the crooked captain, nicknamed "Scarface" for obvious reasons, who smokes a durry like the Penguin and will do anything to honour mother Russia. Erickson is the opportunist who stumbles upon the plot while attempting to escape South America for a relatively minor (by comparison) feud with a local kingpin. Grey is simply wasted, with little to do except wallow in her cabin aboard the doomed ship of "Captain Scarface".

    The villains are simply described as 'Communists', political jingoism and highly appropriate for 1953, but the film is little more than a B-grade quickie, peddling an array of hokey plot contrivances for a 69 minute back-slapping exercise devoted to subduing a red threat. Hastily resolved, there's very little action of which to speak and despite attempts at intrigue, it's pretty dull an uninspired.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    You know you're in trouble from the moment you spot Barton MacLane in the title role, sporting a dueling scar and a Dollar Store Prussian accent. The arrival on the scene of John Mylong (Kroll) -- fresh from his major role in the same year's epically awful Phil Tucker extravaganza, "Robot Monster" -- hardly bodes well for the viewer, either.

    On the other hand, Leif Erickson is serviceable enough as a wise-cracking adventurer who needs to get out of the country fast, no questions asked, and assumes Kroll's identity. (Strangely, the country they're in is never identified, not even with a fictional appellation; the locals seem to have some sort of taboo against naming their own country, always referring instead to "South America". As in, "Goodbye! We hope you enjoyed your stay in South America." Now who the heck says that?) Virginia Grey is undeniably winsome and appealing as the romantic interest. Erickson and Grey aren't exactly Bogie and Bacall, but their presence helps elevate this cheapie at least one point above merely awful.

    I also give the film another point for an interesting premise: Fanatical Soviets (were there any other kind, in the 1950s?) plan to destroy the Panama Canal, by using a kamikaze freighter with a nuclear weapon hidden on board. (Although they must have known this would kick off WWIII, because after all, this is 1953, and only the U.S., Britain, and the Soviets have the bomb, so it's not as if there would be a bewildering array of suspects.)

    Regardless, the Poverty Row production values, constricted running time, pedestrian script, and uninspired direction make this movie much less interesting than it could have been. Plus, there are plot holes you could ... well, steer a freighter through.

    Like when Clegg -- the radio operator on the original Banos, who betrayed every one of his shipmates to a certain death -- kills Kroll in a dispute over his payoff, but then neglects to murder the hotel manager who witnesses the shooting. You'd think such a cold-blooded character would have plugged the manager, too, since he was unarmed and standing close by. (Judging from the obvious budget constraints, my theory is they couldn't afford the extra blanks.)

    Also, you'd think that fully four years after the Russkis detonated their first nuke, the bad guys could have come up with a simpler and more reliable way to set the thing off than some hare-brained rigmarole involving springing a scientist from the gulag, and threatening his daughter.

    And I did mention Barton MacLane's game-but-lame attempt at a menacing accent, right? He should have stuck with the "tough guy with a major character flaw" roles he did so well, epitomized by his corrupt ex-cop in "High Sierra".

    This one might hold some academic interest for you, if you're a student of early Cold War Era propaganda. But the slightly similar Sam Fuller film "Hell and High Water" -- which debuted a year later -- is in every way more watchable.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Panama canal is the target for communist spies in this Z grade thriller that is basically a 1950's version of the type of B movies coming out of Warner Brothers in the early 1940's, exchanging the flag with the spider on it for reds. With Germany no threat, the movies concentrated on the Russians, making them all stereotypical villains as they recycled old plots.

    Starring as the lead villain is veteran Warner Brothers supporting player, Barton MacLane, and boy, is he a baddie: smooth, but evil. Virginia Grey, a second string lead at MGM, is one of the passengers on this ship, unaware that her and everybody else are in danger of being blown up as this tug turns into tooth picks. There are a few tense moments, but mostly, this just drags.

    At just over an hour, this slows down at times as the commies try to show human values even though they aren't afraid of dying violently with everybody else. As MacLane puts it, Americans thrive too much on the value of human life. At times, he seems to be emulating Bela Lugosi. Its just too bad that thus doesn't have the camp value of Lugosi's Z grade thrillers. That might have raised this past being a rather dull thriller.