A family battles for survival as an explosion devastates their cruise ship and punctures its hull. The father must race to free his wife as rising waters threaten them all.
The Last Voyage is fun to watch because it's so OLD. This is the first modern motion picture involving a sinking ship OTHER THAN the Titanic. The movie is squeaky-clean, and Robert Stack is as wooden as a two-by-four as the desperate father. There's not much dramatic tension created here, but that almost seems to be a function of the time period.
This is the final voyage of the U. S. S. Claratin, and her primitive construction becomes critical when a fire in the engine room melts the fuel flow valves in the fully open position. Within minutes, the boiler explodes and creates a very visually satisfying hole blown through every deck of the ship. Of course, this hole separates the family, and when the father struggles to rescue his daughter by trying to cross this bottomless void, we know this movie is going to try hard. And it does.
The special effects are somewhat sparse but exceptionally well done for the period. I was surprised by the level of expensive detail, such as water pouring in through the dining room windows even though they're only visible for a few moments. Dad's first challenge is to rescue his daughter from her perch alongside the path of the boiler. Then he must find a way to free his wife, who lays pinned under several steel beams in her stateroom. This becomes his objective for the remainder of the movie.
A friendly fireman (one who stokes the fires in the engine room) helps Stack get the equipment he will need to free his wife. Meanwhile, the sailors below decks attempt to reinforce the walls of the engine room to prevent the bulkhead from breaching. It does, of course, and that's when everyone really starts to run out of time.
This movie is particularly memorable for its ending sequence, which shows the survivors running down the length of the ship's upper deck, as water splashes onto the floorboards from the sea. This visual is striking, and even a modern audience will wonder how the shot was done; was this a giant set or did the producers simply sink a ship and film its last few minutes above water?
Disaster enthusiasts should see The Last Voyage because it stands uniquely alone in the timeline of movie history. It was the first modern movie based upon people being trapped in an enclosed construction (such as a boat or a building) that was NOT based on a historical event (such as the sinking of the Titanic). More importantly, the plot of the movie was focused on dealing with the disaster, rather than the disaster coming as a big finish to the main story line. This is the formula that dozens of movies would attempt to perfect for the remainder of the century and beyond.
Although it is rather bland, this film is crisp, efficient, and a key turning point for the genre. It represents Hollywood's first try at the modern disaster movie: it features a plot focused on multiple characters escaping from a fictional situation, while fighting for survival amid expensive special effects.