The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Extraordinary Seaman

When director John Frankenheimer got it right with his movies, he hit it out of the park.  We're talking movies like The Train, Seven Days in May, Grand Prix, The Manchurian Candidate, and Birdman of Alcatraz. These are movies that are classics or at least near-classics and should be must-watch for any movie fan.  Just about any director though has to have a couple duds on his/her resume, and until now I hadn't seen Frankenheimer's dud.  For all I know, he may only have the one, but 1969's The Extraordinary Seaman is one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

Reading through Turner Classic Movies' schedule each week, I typically look for actors/actresses I'm a fan of, or if nothing else a title that sounds interesting.  When I stumbled across the cast of this one, my first thought was how had I completely missed the boat on this one?  David Niven in the lead? Faye Dunaway and Alan Alda in supporting roles? Mickey Rooney too?  And it's a World War II story? I don't know at what point I realized this was an awful movie, but it didn't take long.  We're not talking a 'so bad it's good' type movie either.  No guilty pleasure, no real redeeming quality anywhere in sight.  Just plain awful and no amount of talent in the cast was going to save this clunker.

After their ship is sunk somewhere in the Pacific, four sailors (including Alda, Rooney and two relative unknowns) navigate their life boat to land where they seek help while trying to avoid any Japanese forces.  In their wanderings, the foursome stumbles upon an abandoned old gunship with no crew commanded by Commander Finchhaven (Niven) of the Royal Navy.  With his 'new crew,' the commander goes about readying his ship for sea and hopefully Australia.  The sailors, especially Alda's Lt. Krim, are suspicious of the British officer.  He drinks and drinks whiskey without ever getting drunk, never sleeps or eats, and never leaves the bridge of the ship.  What's going on with this possibly nutty officer on this crazy ship?

I feel stupid when I've watched a movie, hated it intensely, and then gone over to the IMDB and find it has a ridiculously high rating. Did I miss the boat on something or are movie viewers like monkeys who like what they're told to like?  So when I do watch a movie, hate it, and see that a majority of voters agree on how horrifically awful something is, it makes me feel better.  'Extraordinary' has earned itself a respectable 2.4 rating from 283 votes as of this review so clearly I wasn't missing anything major here.  It's just a bad movie, and that definitely made me feel slightly better about wasting 80 minutes of my life watching it.  I kept waiting for it to get better, but here's a secret for doesn't.  Don't even bother.

My first thought when I saw the movie was only 82 minutes long was that it packed a lot into a very small window.  Yeah, I couldn't have been more wrong there.  Unsuccessfully trying to either make an existential dig at the lunacy of war or a slapstick comedy that is short on the laughs, Frankenheimer refuses to pick a direction to go in.  If there's a message, I missed it.  The same goes for any supposed laughs.  He uses an odd technique though, splicing in news reel footage of WWII and then editing in his cast.  The off-screen narration usually has some oddball link to what's happening to the characters, but it's incredibly random and doesn't add much to the story.  It's also overused to the point where I started fast-forwarding through huge stretches of the movie.  Actual run time is 82 minutes, but I'd say about 45-60 minutes is actual filmed scenes with a cast that deserves so much better.

So, yes, it's awful almost right from the start, but a cast like that has to save it a little bit, doesn't it?  That's what I figured.  It's not necessarily the cast's fault that what they're working with is one of the more bizarre scripts I've ever seen, but you've got to hold someone accountable.  Alan Alda is playing a younger version of Hawkeye Pierce, his M.A.S.H. character, with almost all of his eccentric mannerisms and oddities present.  Niven is sleep-walking through this part and doesn't bring any of his typical charm to the story.  I'm not sure why Faye Dunaway signed on for this because her character is completely unnecessary and has little involvement with the story.  She does look good so that might be the lone positive I take away from this movie.  Rooney is the lone one at least trying, his Oglethorpe character a paranoid cook convinced everyone is a Japanese spy.

What pulled me through this movie was some sort of explanation with David Niven's character.  SPOILERS When it is revealed, it's not surprisingly pretty underwhelming.  His family has a long tradition of dying in battle, and he did 1914.  Apparently, his grandfather admiral can grant wishes from beyond the grave and forces Niven's Finchhaven to remain on Earth until he can redeem himself by sinking an enemy cruiser.  The only problem? The ending is so poorly handled that nothing is resolved at all.  No resolution for any of the characters is always a solid capper in my book.  What a bad, downright horrible movie. Talking about downright bad taste, read the caption on the poster above.  It's not often you hear Adolf Hitler thanked for something that claimed the lives of millions of people. 

The Extraordinary Seaman <---TCM clips (1969): */****   

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