CORVETTE K-225 —–compact, efficient WW2 film from the packed 1943 roster holds no wide appeal but will be of mild interest to Howard Hawks completists and trivia spotters and has some action value for fans of war movies from the era. A tribute to the small, lightly armed escort vessels and their crews who braved the Atlantic to protect convoys, it also served to give producer Hawks protege/girlfriend Ella Raines a training launch alongside the reliable Randolph Scott.
Robert Rosson, Hawks seasoned second-unit pro, was given directorial credit, and handled the dramatic and risky location work while Hawks managed much of the sound stage material and all those scenes featuring the inexperienced 22-year-old Raines.
The title ship escorts a flock of merchantmen from Nova Scotia to Ireland, braving storms and tangling with German bombers and U-Boats. Scott does a solid job as the tough-but-fair commander, newcomer James Brown is the novice second officer, brother to Raines. Headed by Barry Fitzgerald, the crew features a slew of busy and/or soon-to-be-popular actors like Andy Devine and a 26-year old Robert Mitchum, extra busy in ’43, his debut year, with parts in 19 features.
Not overly gummed up by mush (the sub-plot with the dreamy Raines is brief), the 98 minutes concentrates on the details of the mission, and keeps the crew’s personal dramas from going overboard. While the special effects are dated (the planes, particularly, look pretty cheesy), two aspects give a good accounting: the bracing cinematography taken by Rosson’s crew (Tony Gaudio and Harry Perry) in rough weather at sea and the excellent portrayal of the excess rolling motion of the ship and its continual difficulty on the men inside are very effectively conveyed. Rosson and crew went on five perilous crossings and filmed 70,000 feet of footage to blend with the studio recreations. Always lax on schedules and budgets, Hawks meanwhile went over those by seven weeks and 40%, pushing the little film to a cost of $1,031,630.
The cinematography was Oscar nominated and reviews were good; it made $2,860,000 and 90th place for the year (eventually earning back the investment a year after the war ended). You need a buff’s sharp eyes in the crow’s nest, but saluting or getting soaked in the cast are Fuzzy Knight, Noah Beery Jr., Thomas Gomez, James Flavin, Charles McGraw, Milburn Stone, Frank Faylen, Addison Richards, Peter Lawford (20, one of 16 bits in ’43) and Cliff Robertson (also 20, before serving with the Merchant Marine). *
* Hollywood played fairly fair by trying to give the assorted services and Allies representation in their own pictures. The maritime branches got a bridge-to-boilers salute in 1943 with the Navy cresting in Crash Dive, Destroyer and Destination Tokyo, while the less glamorous but vital Merchant Mariners were honored by Action In The North Atlantic. Speaking of morale raisers, the sultry, green-eyed Ella Raines career was briefly hot, then gradually fizzled out. Rosson did a few more second-unit gigs. but he was unable to match the success of siblings Arthur (sometime feature director and very able second-unit pro) and Harold (highly regarded cinematographer). When he went to Africa, shooting footage for Mogambo and White Witch Doctor, he contracted some undiagnosed fever, and the malady, along with depression over his career, contributed to his suicide by asphyxiation in 1953.
Some 267 corvette’s saw service during WW2: 36 went to the bottom of the Atlantic. The contributions of Canada in the battle against Hitler have received scant cinema glory: a few exceptions are Captains Of The Clouds and The Devil’s Brigade. The otherwise inclusive epic The Longest Day left them out of D-Day entirely. As for Rosson and his cameramen doing those five convoy trips: that showed some genuine show-must-go-on pluck, giving the rate the Nazis were sinking Allied ships, ultimately nearly 3,700.