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Film / Morituri

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Morituri is a 1965 American World War II film adapted from the novel of the same name by German author Werner Jörg Lüddecke, directed by Bernhard Wicki and starring Marlon Brando and Yul Brynner. It bombed in theaters, mostly because moviegoers didn't understand the title (for those who skipped Latin, it means 'those about to die').

We start in 1942 Japan, where German naval officer Kruse (Martin Benrath) is protesting his assignment as First Officer instead of Captain of the SS Ingo, a freighter carrying vital supplies to the war effort in Bordeaux. The Admiral Wendel takes the opportunity to snark at him, mentions that he's not going to enjoy his own posting on a submarine, and reminds him that orders are orders, no matter your rank.

Enter Captain Mueller (Brynner), who's not at all pleased at the news that he is expected to have several felons in his crew, and not afraid to let the admiral know of his displeasure. However, he doesn't have a leg to stand on, since his last ship had been torpedoed while he was drunk, and his reputation affects that of his son's, who is also a captain. The roster stays as it is.

Cut to British-held India, where a Colonel Statter (Trevor Howard) is blackmailing a Mr. Schroeder (Brando), whom British Intelligence knows is a deserter from the German military. If Schroeder facilitates the capture of the Ingo, he will be left alone to live as he chooses. If he refuses, British and German forces will have an exchange of hostages, which would place Schroeder in the hands of the Gestapo. Schroeder relents. He will pose as an SS Standard Leader named Hans Kyle, disable the scuttling charges on the ship, and be picked up by American forces when all is said and done.

Naturally, things don't go as planned.

Provides examples of:

  • Addled Addict: Dr. Ambach gets panicky for no explained reason when he's told that the ship will be making a long trans-Pacific voyage, instead of a short trip to China like the crew had been led to believe. It turns out he's a morphine addict. He's later caught stealing morphine from the ship's stores.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The entirely random reference to the casks of lard, a cargo item much less important than the vital rubber. The lard spills and temporarily keeps the ship afloat by plugging the holes in the hull, giving Mueller time to radio the Allies for rescue.
  • Cool Ship: The SS Ingo is certainly this. The ship was played by the MV Blue Dolphin, originally built as MV Cape Rodney in Scotland in 1946.
  • Chiaroscuro: Scenes in the smoky engine room, moodily lit by ship's lights, where Schroeder skulks around trying to disarm scuttle charges without being caught.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After finding out that his son back in Germany got the Iron Cross for sinking and bombing a hospital ship, Mueller goes on a drinking binge that ends with him screaming at his officers, resulting in him getting relieved of command.
  • Flyaway Shot: Ends with a flyaway shot with the camera zooming out, Schroeder ambling over to the rail of the temporarily not-sinking ship, as Mueller sends the distress signal that will summon the Allied ship to rescue them.
  • The Infiltration: Schroeder is given a fake identity and sent aboard a German merchant ship with orders to facilitate its capture by the Allies.
  • Meaningful Name: Morituri; it means "Those about to die." Kyle's job could well end up being a suicide mission.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Captain Mueller is just about the only officer to treat Eshka with any dignity, and treats his subordinates with respect.
  • Spy Fiction: Stale Beer flavor, with the British inserting an operative on board a German merchant ship, with the objective of facilitating the ship's capture.
  • Villain Opening Scene: Starts with the Nazis in Tokyo, with Wendel ordering Mueller to take the ship and threatening his son if Mueller doesn't.
  • We Interrupt This Program: The German radio the ship gets over shortwave is interrupted by a news bulletin of the first American bombing raid over Germany, which, supposedly, caused no damage.