20 September 2005 | theowinthrop
Tyrone Power and the Sea
In 1946 Tyrone Power managed to start convincing his friend and producer, Darryl Zanuck, to occasionally let him flex his muscles as a straight, serious actor. Zanuck reluctantly agreed, so that Power did THE RAZOR'S EDGE and (more important) NIGHTMARE ALLEY. In the former he struggled to show a man who sought and found spiritual piece in the years following World War I, while his friends went mad in the materialistic hopelessness of Europe and America. In the latter he showed he could play a really nasty, opportunistic heel. But neither film was a blockbuster for Power (THE RAZOR'S EDGE did help push the career of his co-star Clifton Webb). NIGHTMARE ALLEY was a critical success, but a flop at the box office. Zanuck returned Power to his old heroic films, aged a little because he was growing older. As a partial sop his characters had less pleasant sides - his character in PRINCE OF FOXES is a willing tool of Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles) for the first half of the movie. But Power remained the good guy hero.
In the 1950s (after his contract with Fox was completed) Power made more varied films, that showcased the good actor he had become. In particular his tragic biography THE EDDIE DUCHIN STORY, his interesting western RAWHIDE, his shifty defendant in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, his physically damaged (and emotionally wounded) hero in THE SUN ALSO RISES, and this film, ABANDON SHIP/SEVEN WAVES AWAY. The story is reset in modern times. It is the story of the sinking, in 1841, of the William Brown - the same shipwreck that is the subject of Henry Hathaway's movie SOULS AT SEA (1937) that starred Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Henry Wilcoxen. Basically the situation is this: you are in the sole floating lifeboat from a ship that has sunk. There are fifty people clinging to it or inside it. But the frail boat can only be assured of floating with twenty or so passengers in it. So, as the surviving officer in the boat you have to decide who shall live and who shall die. Cooper had to make that choice in SOULS AT SEA, and faces trial for murder as a result. Power does the same thing here too - with similar results.
But the handling of the William Brown tragedy in SOULS AT SEA was the conclusion of that film: The situation and it's resolution took all of ten minutes of the total movie. In ABANDON SHIP, Power is in this dreadful moral dilemma for the entire film. The Captain (Lloyd Nolan) dies early on. Power has to pick and choose among all these few survivors as to who should be kept and who is expendable (based on age, physical condition, value to society). He is unable to rely on anyone else - a fact that is brought to his attention not only by the actions of a critical Stephen Boyd at one point, but by the way Mai Zetterling and James Hayter distance themselves from him when the lifeboat is finally picked up. All powerful in his unwanted element while everyone's lives depended on him, he is all alone when the dangers for the survivors pass away.
ABANDON SHIP is a hard film to sit through as it is so bleak - it is the bleakest movie that Powell ever made (even THE EDDIE DUCHIN STORY had an element of hope in it because Eddie's son Peter was there to carry on the family's name and reputation). But it is an example of good acting all around with a thoughtful script. And it demonstrates that Tyrone Power was a mighty dramatic performer when he was given the right material.