Sunday, March 21, 2021
James Prothero (Trevor Howards) is the captain of the tramp steamer Conway Castle. He’s bad-tempered and he drinks too much and he’s been too long at sea. He’s also, although he has never admitted to himself, an incurable romantic.
The Conway Castle has to put in to the small South American port of San Luis. The crew have to bury their chief engineer. Finding a properly qualified replacement in San Luis is impossible so, with some misgivings, he promotes Mario Contanza (Pedro Armendáriz) to the post.
In San Luis he unwittingly picks up a stowaway, the beautiful fiery 17-year-old Manuela (Elsa Martinelli).
Constanza smuggles Manuela aboard as a cabin boy. You won’t be surprised to hear that trying to pass off Elsa Martinelli as a boy is a deception that works successfully for about five minutes.
This is where Prothero’s latent romanticism kicks in. When Manuela is fished out of the water he suddenly softens. In fact he falls in love with her. And she falls in love with him.
But disaster is about to strike the Conway Castle. There is a slow fire in one of the cargo holds. Saving the ship is now the first priority. And, for Captain Prothero, perhaps saving himself from an existence that has become dissatisfying to him. He has had a glimpse of another life he could lead, another destination for which to head. He has a duty to his crew but now he finds himself thinking he has a duty to himself and to Manuela. The problem is that these duties my be mutually irreconcilable.
Guy Hamilton made some remarkably interesting movies in the 50s and 60s. There was a lot more to his career than the Bond movies. The Intruder and The Ringer are both worth seeing.
The surprisingly effective chemistry between Trevor Howard and Elsa Martinelli (and the fine performances they both give) makes this film work. There’s plenty of suspense when the ship is endangered but it’s basically a character study, and a sophisticated and subtle one. Very highly recommended.
I bought this movie based on a glowing review at Riding the High Country.
It’s interesting to compare this film with Sea Wife, another odd British romance/maritime adventure drama made in the same year. Manuela is by far the better film but Sea Wife is interesting in its own way.