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Film / Mare Nostrum

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Mare Nostrum is a 1926 film directed by Rex Ingram.

The extravagantly named Ulysses Ferragut (Antonio Moreno) is a Spanish sea captain. He is stuck in a loveless arranged marriage with his wife Dona Cinta; they have one son, Esteban. At the beginning of the film Dona Cinta, who does not approve of her husband living a seafaring life, has prevailed on him to quit. Those plans are short-circuited when World War I breaks out, making merchant shipping way too profitable to quit.

While in Italy after having dropped off his cargo, Ulysses meets Freya Talberg (Alice Terry), a stunning beauty who bears a startling resemblance to the portrait of sea goddess Amphitrite that hangs in his home. Ulysses falls deeply in love with Freya, who turns out to be an Austrian spy. Ulysses is so in love that he joins her in espionage, getting involved in espionage himself, transporting a load of diesel fuel into the middle of the Mediterranean for the clandestine refueling of a German U-boat.



  • Arranged Marriage: A very badly arranged one between Ulysses and Dona Cinta.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The Californian, better known to history as the ship that did not help the Titanic, was in fact sunk by a U-boat in November 1915. (There's some Artistic License – History here as well, since the Californian was sunk off the coast of Greece, which is pretty far away from the Naples-Marseilles route.)
  • Credits Gag: Rex Ingram hated Louis B. Mayer so much that he wouldn't let Mayer's name be on his movie. So when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer distributed Mare Nostrum, the opening title card calls it a "Metro-Goldwyn Production".
  • Death of a Child: Esteban is killed when the submarine that Ulysses refueled sinks the passenger ship that Esteban is on.
  • Face Death with Dignity: How Freya faces the firing squad. She insists on wearing all her furs and jewels to her execution, and she declines the blindfold. When she sees the squadron of troopers lined up to shoot her, she says "Are all of those people here for me?"
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  • Fat Best Friend: Ulysses' dimwitted but affable first mate Caragol, who is the only crewmember that stays on when Ulysses converts his merchant vessel into a warship and joins the French Navy.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Freya, who uses her beauty to ensnare Ulysses into working for the Austrians. As so often happens in fiction, though, she falls In Love with the Mark.
  • The Grim Reaper: After Ulysses succeeds in sinking the U-boat even as his own ship sinks, we see the bony hand of the Reaper, having already crossed "Californian" and "Mare Nostrum" off a list, crossing off "U-boat" as well.
  • High-Class Glass: They appear to be mandatory for Germans, as both the German spy and the German sea captain wear monocles.
  • Karma Houdini: Freya's handler, Doctor Fedelmann, not only organizes the U-boat mission that results in the death of Esteban, she also deliberately betrays Freya to the French. She gets away with it.
  • Mata Hari: Freya, who uses her beauty and sex appeal to lure Ulysses into illegal missions on behalf of the Central Powers. When she's sent out to be shot by firing squad, she insists on wearing her furs and jewels, saying that they're her uniform and she should be shot wearing them as a soldier would be shot in his uniform.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first scene has young Ulysses listening to his sea captain uncle's stories, like the time the uncle claims to have seen Amphitrite the sea goddess.
  • Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: Ulysses has to start mopping sweat from his face as he sees a parade of volunteers march through Naples, Italy having joined the Allies. Italy going to war against Austria and Germany makes Ulysses' association with Austrian and German spies a lot more dangerous.
  • Shot at Dawn: Freya's fate, after Doctor Fedelmann betrays her to the French and Ulysses refuses her plea for rescue.
  • Spy Fiction: Martini flavored, with an exotic beauty ensnaring a sea captain into evil deeds.
  • Tempting Fate: The radio operator on Ulysses' ship says "The Mediterranean is so safe it bores me." This is immediately followed by the radioman receiving an SOS from the Californian, which has been torpedoed and is rapidly sinking.
  • Title Drop: Multiple references to how the Ferraguts, a sea-going family, like to refer to the Mediterranean as "Mare Nostrum"—"Our Sea". That's what the Romans called it. Their ship is also called the Mare Nostrum.
  • Together in Death: Freya is shot by firing squad. Soon after, Ulysses dies when the Mare Nostrum is sunk by the Germans. As he sinks to the bottom after drowning, Ulysses meets Freya as the goddess Amphitrite, and they embrace.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Doctor Fedelmann intercepts a letter from Freya to Ulysses in which Freya reveals that she's wracked with guilt over the sinking of the Californian, and that she doesn't want to be a spy anymore. Doctor Fedelmann then promptly betrays Freya to the French by sending a message that she knows the French will intercept and decode.

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