Hollywood on the High Seas
Cruise ships play a starring role in some of the most romantic movies ever made. .
By Jill McGuire
Since the 1930s, filmmakers have found the cruise ship to be a perfect vehicle for telling stories packed with romance and intrigue. Many a cinematic classic revolves around celluloid characters lured to the sea: tortured souls seeking to escape the past; mysterious mavericks with secrets to hide; everyday folks who find themselves caught up in a serendipitous romance or adventure on the high seas.
Why set a movie on a cruise ship? For one thing, it’s a convenient plot device. The director is able to corral all of his character in one place — and they can’t leave without jumping overboard. In addition, a cruise ship offers a set designer all sorts of possibilities, from the elegant salons of a luxurious liner to the bleak steerage decks overflowing with impoverished immigrants.
So grab some popcorn (and maybe a box of Kleenex), settle back, and have a new look at five cruise classics we could watch again and again.
In this Academy Award–nominated version of Sinclair Lewis’ best-selling novel, retired auto magnet Sam Dodsworth (the inimitable Walter Huston) and his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton), leave mythical small-town Zenith behind and embark on a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard Queen Mary.
After 20 years living in the shadow of her now middle-aged husband, Fran still imagines herself a young beauty, eagerly anticipating a glamorous new life. She begins by flirting with fellow passenger and suave British cad, Captain Clyde Lockert (David Niven) who, once rejected, chides Fran for playing out of her league. While Sam is bedazzled by the sea, and then London and Paris, Fran pulls further away, eventually sending her doting husband back home on SS Aquitania.
After an affair with cosmopolitan financier Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas) ends badly, Fran impetuously decides to divorce Sam and marry a much younger Austrian baron smitten by her frivolity and zest for life.
Meanwhile in Naples, Sam runs into Edith Cortright (perfectly portrayed by Mary Astor), an American expat divorcee who he and Fran met on Queen Mary.
In 1936, the fictional Dodsworths might have sailed from New York on Queen Mary’s first return voyage to the U.K. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Queen Mary is now a museum and hotel permanently berthed in Long Beach, California.
SS Aquitania reputedly crossed the Atlantic 475 times during 35 years of service.
RMS Rex was the only Italian liner to win the prestigious Blue Riband (Blue Ribbon) award for the fastest North Atlantic crossing.