[box cover]

The Wreck of the Mary Deare

Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection

As the title of the film alone tells us, the freighter Mary Deare is due for a hard landing. However, its fate is not so clear when Capt. John Sands (Charlton Heston) first sights the ship adrift in the English Channel. Sands, captain of the small working boat Seawitch, is familiar with the waters, and he can tell immediately that the Mary Deare's fate is dire, with no sign of command, smoke rising off the deck, and only one remaining lifeboat. Thinking he might take the ship — and its cargo — under salvage rights, Sands asks his crew to keep watch while he attempts a risky boarding, where he finds the lone occupant, first officer Gideon Patch (Gary Cooper), in bad shape. Heavy seas prevent Sands from returning to his own boat, after which Patch explains that he took command of his vessel four days earlier, when an explosion, fires, the loss of the captain, the destruction of the radio shack, and a mysterious "abandon ship" order transformed a routine voyage into chaos. Sands hopes to assume command from the apparently confused Patch, but maritime regulations make him little more than a passenger as his new captain hopes to steer the limping Mary Deare on a flood-tide through the Minquiers, a treacherous stretch of rocks between England and France. Instead, the freighter runs aground, which appears to have been part of Patch's plan all along — as they sail the last lifeboat to France, Patch asks Sands not to reveal the ship's location to authorities, but instead to claim that it was lost in the murky deep. As it turns out, Patch is waiting for the official Court of Inquiry, at which point he insists that he will tell the entire story of the Mary Deare and its ill-fated journey from the Far East to European waters. With two legendary stars and a healthy dose of ocean-going suspense, Michael Anderson's The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) is a reliable bit of cinematic entertainment, thanks in part to the script, sourced from the novel of the same name by British author Hammond Innes. While not a major figure in popular fiction, Innes specialized in tales of the sea, and his plotting is largely similar to the lean, masculine craft of Alistair MacLean, who could sell just about any story as long as he only told his readers half of it up front. For director Anderson, it would seem his primary challenge was presenting two major stars on screen at the same time — a daunting task, but one that he manages well thanks to Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston's distinct styles. Heston's oft-imitated formalism comes across in its typically sharp focus, while Cooper's tough-guy persona is nicely aged with a touch of vulnerability as the elderly ship's captain who must face down some difficult choices and a checkered past. The movie's miniature ships may not be always convincing (Das Boot established that a minimum scale much be achieved before water itself cooperates in the illusion), but the highly charged opening sequence is memorable, and while the final third threatens to unwind in a lengthy courtroom procedural, Michael Redgrave as a prosecutor and Richard Harris as Patch's nemesis ensure that it's just as entertaining. Warner's DVD release of The Wreck of the Mary Deare, part of "The Gary Cooper Signature Collection," features a very good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a CinemaScope source-print that offers rich color and minimal wear, while the Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio is serviceable. No extras, slimcase in the box-set.

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