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The Long Voyage Home Movie Review

Director: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Lawson, John Qualen, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, Arthur Shields, Joseph Sawyer, J.M. Kerrigan, Rafaela Ottiano, Carmen Morales, Jack Pennick, Bob E. Perry, Constant Frenke, David Hughes, Constantine Romanoff, Dan Borzage, Harry Tenbrook, Cyril McLaglen, Douglas Walton

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Film Editing, Best Original Musical Score, Best Special Effects, Best Screenplay, Best Picture

If I’ve learned anything from watching all these Oscar-nominated films set at sea, it’s that the open ocean changes a man. Sometimes it’s psychological – when behavior changes under conditions of pressure and isolation – and sometimes it’s by choice – the sea offering an escape from the land and its troubles.

In The Long Voyage Home, a varied lot of sailors, from a middle-aged Irishman named Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell) to a young Swede named Olsen (John Wayne), take to the waters on a cargo ship during World War II. Throughout the movie, the crew deals with all kinds of dangers, including violet storms, attacks by Nazi planes and possible German spies on board the ship.

Stressed out by the transatlantic journey the ship is making through dangerous German-infested waters, the crew must deal with everything from losing fellow friends and sailors to combating loneliness in the open ocean. Not everyone is cut out for life at sea – and not everyone makes it home alive.

Based on four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neil, The Long Voyage Home is not plot-driven, but more episodic in nature. It’s not the most focused and sustained movie, but this storytelling technique works to the film’s advantage, almost creating vignettes that speak to the aching loneliness of the sailors, and the ever-present longing for home.

This movie is probably best known for the amazing cinematography by Gregg Toland. Shot in black and white, Toland’s use of shadows and light set a precedent for other crime/noir films to come. In fact, Orson Welles was so impressed by the look of The Long Voyage Home that he hired Toland to work on his next project, Citizen Kane.

John Wayne stands as this movie’s other claim to fame, though he maybe has 10 lines of dialogue throughout the whole thing. He’s mostly submerged among the other sailor characters and boasts such a terrible Swedish accent that many critics consider him miscast in this role; however, Wayne himself thought it to be one of his finest performances.

Honestly, I liked John Wayne in this movie, though I think they could have easily removed the Swedish storyline without any problem. His lack of screen time was a bummer, though. I actually found him quite enjoyable to watch. He was given top-billing in this picture (after his breakthrough the year before in Stagecoach), but was in the margins of his own movie.

The Long Voyage Home received a slew of technical Oscar nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects, and Best Film Editing. It didn’t take home any awards, but remains a favorite of fans, including Eugene O’Neil himself.

As the movie ends, this group of rag-tag sailors will come to learn that there’s no complete escape from the world and its troubles. The freedom of the sea is but an illusion. Though life on a cargo ship may not be glamorous, it’s consistent. Even after given the opportunity to make a new life on land, many of the men find themselves returning to the ship, nomadic, alone and yearning for the life they’ve all come to know.


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