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Film / Prophet Without Honor

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Prophet Without Honor is a 1939 short film (11 minutes) directed by Felix E. Feist.

It is a documentary about the life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, pioneering oceanographer. Maury joins the United States Navy as a young man, but his promising career as a fleet officer is ruined when a fall form a carriage leaves him with a lame leg. Unable to serve at sea, Maury takes a desk job. With time on his hands he begins studying old records and naval logbooks. Soon he realizes that wind currents at sea obey predictable patterns and that knowledge of these patterns can be crucial in navigation. His studies of wind, weather, and the ocean floor make him famous around the world. But his reputation is ruined when, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, he resigns his commission in the U.S. Navy to join the Confederacy.



  • Book Burning: Maury's reputation is so low after he leaves to join the Confederacy that his books are thrown into ovens and burned.
  • Bookends: Begins and ends with shots of Matthew Fontaine Maury's bust at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in New York (it used to be a big deal).
  • Cobweb of Disuse: When young Matt Maury first enters the naval record room, the place is covered in cobwebs and dust.
  • Documentary: A history of the eventful life of Matthew Fontaine Maury.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Shots of the Parliament building in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris illustrate Maury's time as a wanderer after the Confederacy is destroyed.
  • Flying Dutchman: Maury is left literally as a man without a country, wandering Europe after the Confederacy loses the war—as a member of the Confederate Secret Service he is ineligible for amnesty. Eventually he gets a pardon that allows him to come home.
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  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Maury is described as an "ambassador for the Confederacy." That's soft-pedaling his work in the Confederate Secret Service, which included the commission of a Confederate naval ship, as well as the designing of a nautical mine that wreaked havoc on Union shipping.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: There is a brief symbolic shot of Maury's sword being snapped in half after he joins the Confederacy.
  • Narrator: As with many of the short documentaries made during the studio era, there is a narrator telling the story, rather than having any dialogue.
  • "X" Marks the Spot: A ship is lost at sea. Maury uses his knowledge of wind and currents to predict that it will be found at a certain place. He marks the spot on the map with an X. He is right.