The Cruel Sea (1953)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 24, 1953 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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It is extremely rare for a film on World War II to take a subtle, understated approach, but that is exactly what The Cruel Sea does, and the result is one of the most underrated and moving war films. Director Charles Frend takes an almost documentary approach to this story of British seamen. There is little plot except depicting the men's daily fight for survival, and although there are battle scenes, and effective ones at that, The Cruel Sea derives its principal strength from its ability to make the audience identify with its characters. In scene after scene, whether they are in battle or visiting their girlfriends or wives back home, the war is always present on their faces and in their body language. Frend handles many key sequences with an exhilarating lack of bombast, more often than not placing primary focus on the characters' reaction to the drama. But this is also not the stiff-upper-lip stoicism that is sometimes present in British war films; the emotion is there, it is just not jammed down the viewer's throat. Jack Hawkins is terrific as the civilian seaman who finds himself as a naval officer, and the supporting cast includes Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliott. The film's black-and-white documentary feel allows the filmmakers to incorporate stock footage, and also adds to the authentic feel of the picture. And the music score, like the film itself, is emotional without being overwhelming. The Cruel Sea ultimately achieves the unexpected: It explores the effect of war on its combatants without ever succumbing to sensationalism or jingoism.