Not quite the Love Boat, but 1935's "Phantom Ship" proves to be a ton more interesting. Lots of homicide awaits the doomed voyage of the Mary Celeste, which is no surprise as Bela Lugosi is on board. Movie goers, who in recent years saw both "King Kong" and "Dracula" at the theaters, had no idea that this film, though a minor B-movie, would hold bigger shocks. So let us look at a grim, and surprising film which might have turned off audiences in an era gone by.
In 1872, the Mary Celeste is found derelict, floating in the Atlantic. The fate of it's 11 man crew and the beautiful wife of the captain is a mystery. No one knows what evil befell the last voyage, except those of us who saw this film. Captain Briggs (Arthur Margetson) is sailing a cargo of whiskey to Genoa and brings sultry blonde wife along. Sarah (Shirley Grey) has just dumped another sea captain in order to marry Briggs. Not a planner, Briggs goes to a seedy maritime bar to find a crew for the voyage, which is the next day. His volunteers are all drunk (...which is actually how the U.S. Marine Corps began), and cut throats. Oh yes....Anton (Lugosi), is a last minute addition and he just so happens to have a score to settle with the Bilson (Edmund Willard), the First Mate.
The all too trusting Briggs also allows Sarah's jilted fiance to supply a crew member....never a smart idea. Everyone on board has a motive for homicide, and one by one the bodies start amassing. Poor Sarah! She is going to have a tough voyage and when a salty dog tries to rape her, Anton saves her by killing the fiend, and earning the praise of the husband Captain. As the 11 man crew dwindles, someone attempts to murder Sarah and the Captain. Now the stakes are too high and Briggs desperately tries to identify the killer. I know what you're thinking....this is a 1935 movie and the ending will be neat sending audiences home happy. Wanna bet? What takes place in the final third of "Phantom Ship" is hardly neat and uplifting...that's all I'll say.
Will Sarah's flirtatious past doom her to become shark bait? Are Anton's heroics just an act to gain the trust of the Captain and Sarah before he reveals a more evil side? Though most of our characters are repulsive, we really cheer for Sarah's, our glamorous damsel, survival. She is just too pretty to die. Available on YouTube, "Phantom Ship" is a film that did not win the award for Feel Good Film of 1935.
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