The Mystery Of The Marie Celeste (1935)

DVD Cover (Image Entertainment)
Genres: Docudrama, Mystery, Sea Adventure
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Denison Clift Denison Clift
Bela Lugosi Bela Lugosi
Shirley Grey Shirley Grey
Arthur Margetson Arthur Margetson
Edmund Willard Edmund Willard
Dennis Hoey Dennis Hoey
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5.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: January 19, 2009
The Mystery of the Marie Celeste, retitled as Phantom Ship for American audiences, is a film that has a bit of history surrounding it. For starters, this was one of the debut offerings to come out of Hammer Film Productions - according to IMDb, it was only their second release. Yes, this was very early in their history, and it was also the only time that Mr. Dracula himself Bela Lugosi graced the stage of a Hammer film. Just to make the film even more interesting is the fact that the only print in existence is missing a whopping twenty minutes of footage; you see, the film originally ran for about eighty minutes, but when it was brought over to America, Guaranteed Pictures Corporation decided to cut out twenty minutes to help the pacing. Unfortunately, this cut version is the only one in existence, and thus, those twenty minutes are lost to time. With that little history lesson out of the way, how did the actual film hold up? Well...

The Mary Celeste (called the Marie Celeste here) was a real ship that I'm sure most of you have heard of. You can read more about it over on Wikipedia, but the gist of the story is that the captain of this ship was tasked with transporting a cargo of commercial alcohol from New York to Italy. The ship was found drifting a month later, and upon investigation, it was discovered that every man on board had vanished. Later tellings of the story spiced it up a bit by claiming that meals were found half-eaten and cups of tea were left untouched in an attempt to put a supernatural spin on it, but these claims are nothing more than figments of Arthur Conan Doyle's imagination that have become "common knowledge" pieces of "fact" over the years.

There are theories aplenty as to what happened to that crew, but to this day, we have no definite answer... and we probably never will. The Mystery of the Marie Celeste attempts to present us with one possible solution to the mystery, and it begins with Capt. Benjamin Briggs (Arthur Margetson), his wife Sarah (Shirley Grey), deck-hand Anton Lorenzen (Bela Lugosi), and a handful of other sailors boarding this ill-fated ship. After they get out to sea, one of the men turns up dead... and then another... and then still another. What we find ourselves with is a bit of a murder mystery, where we at home get to follow the clues and try to discover who the serial killer is or whether there's something otherworldly to blame instead.

The storyline for this little number is perfectly acceptable and does keep things moving, but it's predictable as can be and you'll see the ending coming a mile away. Still, even though you will have a good idea as to how it's going to turn out by the thirty minute mark, the film does manage to keep you interested thanks to an acceptable script. We may know what's coming, but it's still fairly enjoyable to watch regardless. This one isn't a classic and there's a reason that it's not very well-known, but it's certainly not a bad film either: it's just sort of there, giving us a few bright spots and a handful of disappointments.

Speaking of bright spots, I have to give it up for Bela Lugosi. Now, I'll be honest: for the first chunk of the film, Lugosi seems to be going through the motions and completely out of his element. I was actually more intrigued by Shirley Grey's brief yet memorable appearances and Edmund Willard's portrayal of the ship's obligatory roughneck than that of the star of the show, but over the course of just one or two scenes, Lugosi turned things around and showed why he's such a household name in the world of motion pictures. I'm not going to guess as to what happened to cause this initial slouching in the performance department, but I will say that when he decided to turn that switch "on", he was "on" for the rest of the film and provided some great moments. When the mystery starts to unravel and he really gets a chance to shine... well, again, there's a reason that he's a household name.

One thing that did bug me about the film - and this could very well be courtesy of Guaranteed Pictures' edits - was the fact that we rarely got to see who exactly was getting knocked off. Granted, this was one of those films where there is three main characters, two minor roles, and a handful of "round out the cast" parts, but each man did get a little time to show off their acting chops. Therefore, I was sort of saddened that save for one or two of them, we never knew who it was that was dying. For example, one scene found the remaining crew looking into the hold of the ship, seeing a corpse, and shaking their heads in despair... but we at home never got a chance to see who it was that had died. This happens more than once, and while it's not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things - after all, those victims weren't the stars of the show - I do have to admit that it was a little disappointing.

Overall, The Mystery of the Marie Celeste is not a bad film, but it's not a classic or even a great one either. It has historical significance, but in terms of pure entertainment value, it's sort of there: you won't want to fast-forward through it, but at the same time, you won't exactly find yourself singing its praises. The storyline itself was quite good on paper, but a little more emphasis on the "mystery" part would have gone a long way in raising my interest. 5/10.
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