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Down to the Sea
in Ships

(1922)
 

Clara Bow was natural-born star. She had an opportunity to appear in William Christy Cabanne’s Beyond the Rainbow (1922) after winning a contest staged by Motion Picture Magazine in 1922. Bow’s scenes were cut from the original release prints of Beyond the Rainbow, but later in the 1920s the film was rereleased with Bow’s scenes restored on capitalize on her new stardom. Over the ensuing years she worked hard for producer B.P. Schulberg, who placed her in as many films as she could endure to maximize profits from the Clara Bow phenomenon. Eventually she and Schulberg found a home at Paramount, the top motion picture studio of the 1920s, and the quality of Bow’s films rose to a respectable level. This packaging of two of her early films shows both the natural star in her first public screen appearance and the three-year screen veteran in one of her later independently-produced vehicles.

Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) was not Clara Bow’s first film, as is often noted (her first film was the aforementioned Beyond the Rainbow). It was, however, the first film in which the public saw her. Bow’s scenes had been edited out of Beyond the Rainbow prior to the film’s release. The film’s title comes from the Bible, Psalms 107, verses 23-24.

William W. Morgan (William Walcott), a devout Quaker, controls a fleet of whaling ships that sails from New Bedford. His daughter Patience Morgan (Marguerite Courtot) is beautiful and obedient. His granddaughter ‘Dot’ Morgan (Clara Bow) however is a young mischievous cypher to him, orphaned at sea, and now growing into young womanhood. The godless Jake Finner (Patrick Hartigan) and Samuel Siggs (J. Thornton Baston), a Japanese-American, plan to steal Morgan’s whaling ships for the transport of African gold. On top of that Finner wants to steal Morgan’s daughter.

Finner has Siggs, who is sinister by result of his mixed heritage (according to the film’s logic), dress as a Quaker to infiltrate the Morgan business. Impressing at work, Siggs soon obtains permission to speak with Morgan’s daughter, Patience, and quickly presses her to marry him. Meanwhile, Thomas Allan Dexter (Raymond McKee) arrives home from college to Patience and they rekindle their childhood relationship to a quickly evolving proposal of marriage. However, the rigid Morgan will not allow his daughter to marry other than a Quaker whaler, and Dexter immediately signs on as a whaler. Finner arranges to place Dexter on a ship where he will never come back. When the whaler departs the next day, the ship carries not only the shangied Dexter but also Dot, who has disguised herself as a sailor to be with Jimmy, the young cabin boy she is infatuated with. Their simultaneous disappearance from the village leads the town gossips to conclude that they have departed west together.

Onboard the ship, Dexter makes what he can of the situation and sets to work. Jimmy, meanwhile, hides and reluctantly cares for the stowaway Dot.

The film then contains semi-documentary footage of whalers at work. Finner coldcocks the captain and throws him overboard, then concocts a cover story and assumes command of the ship. Now heading for Africa, the crew is split between greed for gold and for returning home. Finner discovers Dot below. With half the crew on the verge of mutiny, Dexter leads a successful revolt. With Finner’s men in the brig, they set sail for home.

Blinded by the loss at sea of his only son, Morgan presses Patience to marry Siggs to obtain a grandson. Swooning at the thought, Patience declines but she is swayed by the desperate and elderly Morgan. On the way home, Dexter leads the remaining crew in the killing of another whale. On Patience’s wedding day, the ship encounters a storm and Dexter learns the truth of the plot. Finner escapes overboard close to shore. Meanwhile, Dexter is trying to track down Patience before she is married but is detained by Finner. Providence intervenes and Dexter arrives in time to keep Patience from completing her vows.

The film was shot on historic locations in New England. The production is somewhat dated by Elmer Clifton’s melodramatic direction of the actors. The intertitles are sprinkled with quotes from Moby Dick and other whaling books. — Carl Bennett

2002 Kino on Video DVD edition

Parisian Love (1925), color-toned black & white, 62 minutes, not rated,
with Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 95 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K243, UPC 0-38329-02432-1.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 2 April 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 6 / audio: 7 / additional content: 6 / overall: 7.

A good to very-good 35mm preservation print from the Paul Killiam film collection, struck in 1983 from Killiam’s 1972 materials, has been utilized for the video transfer of this home video edition from Kino International. Some moderate speckling and filmbase scuffing is to be seen, and the source print is compromised by a few splices and scratches, contrasty graytones that sometimes lose highlight details, and moments of pronounced print damage. Some shots flutter with inconsistent exposures that either existed in the original print or were introduced in the Killiam preservation. The full-frame, natural-speed video transfer should display most of the available surviving image on television monitors with overscan cropping.

The film is accompanied by the piano score performed by William Perry and recorded in 1972 and is reproduced from the optical soundtrack of the Killiam print with all its noisy, compressed, spliced, slightly-distorted and pitch-waivering glory.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD edition is also available directly from KINO LORBER.
2006 Grapevine Video DVD edition

Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), color-toned black & white, 101 minutes, not rated,
with Whaling in the Pacific (1952), black & white, 5 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC 8-42614-10030-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $19.95 (reduced to $14.95).
DVD release date: April 2006.
Country of origin: USA

This budget edition has been mastered from a 16mm reduction print, but Grapevine’s video transfers have improved recently for a better viewing experience.

The film is accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
2009 Flicker Alley DVD edition

Under Full Sail (1922-1933), black & white, color-tinted black & white, and color-toned black & white, 130 minutes total, not rated,
including Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) [exerpt], black & white, 10 minutes, not rated.

Flicker Alley, FA0012, UPC 6-17311-67439-6, ISBN 1-893967-43-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 14 April 2009.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 6 / additional content: 6 / overall: 7.

This edition does not feature a full-length presentation of Down to the Sea in Ships but, instead, presents a ten-minute exerpt for semi-documentary purposes, following Dexter and the crew as they hunt and kill a whale.

The exerpt (corresponding to the end of chapter 10 in the Kino edition noted above) is worth noting here for the video transfer of an excellent but worn 35mm print that is a couple of generations closer to the camera negative than the Killiam source print of the Kino edition. There are a few pronounced vertical scratches and a patina of filmbase wear to be seen, but there is also a full-range of graytones and greater image detail in this exerpt as compared to be Kino disc.

Viewing this exerpt gives nautical and Clara Bow enthusiasts hope that a higher-quality home video edition of Down to the Sea in Ships may someday be released.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era CLARA BOW films available on home video.

Other NAUTICAL FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

 
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