Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Routine Courtroom Drama

"The Wreck of the Mary Deare," which premiered 55 years ago today, might have been an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

MGM approached Hitchcock about directing it, and the idea was tempting. Hitch had wanted to work with Gary Cooper for quite awhile, but, after reviewing the script, he reached the conclusion that it could not be done without becoming a routine courtroom drama.

So Hitchcock opted out and began another project, this one with Cary Grant — "North by Northwest."

Michael Anderson ended up as the director, but, in spite of any efforts to the contrary, I don't think the finished product varied from what Hitchcock anticipated.

If you saw "The Perfect Storm," "Titanic" and "The Caine Mutiny," you probably have a pretty good grasp of the story. "The Wreck of the Mary Deare" combined elements of all three.

There were more than two people in the cast, but, ultimately, the story was about Cooper and Charlton Heston.

Heston's character was the captain of a salvage ship that was nearly struck by a freighter that seemed to be abandoned. Heston went aboard the ship looking for property to plunder and encountered its looney captain, played by Cooper.

Despite their efforts, the Mary Deare sank.

Anderson deserved credit, too, for keeping the suspense level up through much of the movie — I'm sure his experience with special effects ("Around the World in 80 Days,") helped. But, ultimately, the story turned out the way Hitchcock expected it would.

Heston's character believed Cooper's character when he claimed that the ship had been sabotaged to collect insurance on the cargo — which had been unloaded earlier — but the court did not. That led Cooper and Heston to dive to the sunken ship in search of evidence to prove Cooper was telling the truth.

Cooper worked right up until his death from cancer in 1961. He made other movies after he made "The Wreck of the Mary Deare," but he isn't remembered for any of them. He is remembered for "Sergeant York," "Pride of the Yankees" and "High Noon," and those movies, as well as a handful of others, were his legacy. And that is as it should be.

He should not be remembered for a routine courtroom drama.