British DVD cover from 2010
|Directed by||Roy Ward Baker|
|Produced by||Jay Lewis|
|Screenplay by||W.E. Fairchild|
|Based on||the stage play Morning Departure |
by Kenneth Woollard
|Starring||John Mills |
|Editing by||Alan Osbiston|
|Studio||Jay Lewis Productions|
|Distributed by||GDF (UK) |
British Empire Films (AUS)
Universal Pictures (US)
|Release dates|| |
|Running time||102 min|
Morning Departure (released as Operation Disaster in the United States) is a 1950 British naval drama film about life aboard a sunken submarine, directed by Roy Ward Baker, and starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. It is based on a stage play with the same name by Kenneth Woollard, which had also been shown as a live TV play by the BBC both in 1946 and 1948.
The story is set after the end of the Second World War and concerns a British submarine, HMS Trojan, which is out on a routine exercise to test its new snorkel mast when it encounters a derelict floating mine left over from the war. Unfortunately, it is a magnetic mine, and the submarine does not need to hit it before it becomes a danger. The sub dives, but eventually sets off the mine and it blows the bows of the sub completely off, and at the same time floods the after section through the displaced snorkel mast, instantly killing all 53 of the crew in the bows and stern section. The sub settles to the bottom leaving twelve crew members alive amidships, who have been saved by the watertight doors which had been closed by order of the captain when he realised the imminent danger.
When the shore base becomes aware that Trojan is overdue, surface rescue vessels are sent out to investigate. The captain of the sub, Lieutenant Commander Peter Armstrong (John Mills), sensibly provides an indication of their position to these vessels by expelling a quantity of oil which rises to the surface. Following standard escape procedure, a diver is sent down with an air line while everyone prepares for the rescue. Armstrong selects the first four for release, and they escape safely without incident, and are picked up on the surface. The eight remaining crew assume there are plenty of breathing sets for them all to escape successfully. However, the captain discovers that all but four have been destroyed in the blast. This means the final four will have to remain under water until a full salvage operation can be carried out, which may take a week or more.
Armstrong assembles the others to draw lots through a pack of cards he deals out, to decide who goes and who remains. Two, the cook and the first lieutenant, Lieutenant Manson (Nigel Patrick), with the lowest cards, select themselves to stay behind along with Armstrong. The top three, to go first, also select themselves with high cards. Of the other two, there is a tie, both knaves, between Stoker Snipe (Richard Attenborough) and E.R.A. Marks (George Cole). On losing a re-deal, young Snipe goes berserk with fear and has to be physically restrained. Armstrong approaches Marks and asks if he will forfeit his place for Snipe, sensing difficulties if Snipe is left behind. Marks agrees.
They begin to prepare for escape, but Snipe now hangs back, falsely claiming he has hurt his arm in the scuffle. He insists that Marks should go. Marks and the other three escape safely through the hatch and are picked up by the salvage vessels. Below, Manson has a fainting fit but Snipe catches him using both arms without difficulty. Cheerfully at first, the four begin the wait for the salvage operation.
Above, all goes well to begin with, in fine weather. Divers manage to secure cables under the sub, which is slowly winched up, but only fifteen feet per day can be achieved. However, as the days go by, the weather turns, and soon there is a full storm at sea. As a result, the sub shifts on the cables, and sinks again to the floor of the sea. Manson has remained in ill-health below, nursed with care by Snipe. However his bunk is located next to what becomes a chlorine gas leak, and, overcome, Manson dies.
The storm is so bad that the captain of the salvage ship decides his own men are at risk, and abandons the salvage operation altogether. The three left in the sub sense that there is no hope for them. The film ends with Armstrong reading from a Naval prayer book.
From early scenes in the film, and from dialogue throughout, the viewer is given insights into the personal and home lives of the crew, their hopes and now thwarted ambitions. For example, Snipe is married to a wayward wife, whom he idolises; whilst Armstrong has been offered a lucrative shore job by his wealthy father-in-law, and had been planning to leave the Navy to take it up as soon as this patrol was over.
- John Mills as the captain, Lieutenant Commander Peter Armstrong
- Nigel Patrick as the first lieutenant, Lieutenant Manson
- Peter Hammond as Sub-Lieutenant Oakley
- Andrew Crawford as Sub-Lieutenant J. McFee
- Michael Brennan as Chief Petty Officer Barlow
- George Cole as Engine Room Artificer Marks
- Victor Maddern as Leading Telegraphist Hillbrook
- Roddy McMillan as Leading Seaman Andrews
- Frank Coburn as Leading Seaman Brough
- Jack Stewart as Leading Seaman Kelly
- James Hayter as Able Seaman Higgins
- Wylie Watson as Able Seaman Nobby Clark
- Richard Attenborough as Stoker Snipe
- George Thorpe as Captain Fenton
- Bernard Lee as Commander Gates
- Kenneth More as Lieutenant Commander James
- Alastair Hunter as Captain Jenner
- Helen Cherry as Helen Armstrong
- Lana Morris as Rose Snipe
- Zena Marshall as Wren
The film is based on a very popular stage play at the time, by Kenneth Wollard. Beside several stage setups around Britain, it had already been made as a live TV play by the BBC, first on 1 December 1946, with an afternoon rerun two days later, and was shown twice again by the BBC in February 1948 with a different cast. Nigel Patrick, who plays 1st Officer Manson in the film, played the captain in the first TV version.
In the play, the captain's name is Stanford, but for the film it was changed to Armstrong. Most other characters retained their names in the film version, although the film also has additional characters, due to the flash back scenes and scenes from the rescue operation on the surface. The stage play has an all male 14 character cast, while the film has a credited cast of 20 (plus a few uncredited minor roles), which also includes three women.
HMS Tiptoe was used for the external submarine shots. The opening titles feature a statement about the decision to release the film in the light of the loss of HMS Truculent. HMS Trucelent sank in 1950, after an accidental collision with a freighter which resulted in the loss of 64 lives. The HMS Truculent incident took place after filming of "Morning Departure" had been completed, but before it went on general release to the public. The producers decided to go ahead with the film release, as a tribute to the bravery and fortitude of Royal Naval personnel.
- John Howard Reid: Success in the Cinema – Money-Making Movies and Critics' Choices (2006), pages 195–196 Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BBFC: Morning Departure – running time Retrieved 24 November 2012
- IMDb: Operation Disaster – release dates Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BFI Database: Morning Departure (1946) Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BFI Database: Morning Departure (1948) Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BFI Database: Morning Departure (1946) – TV transmission Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BFI Database: Morning Departure (1948) – TV transmission Retrieved 24 November 2012
- BFI Database: Morning Departure (1946) – Cast Retrieved 24 November 2012
- IMDb: Morning Departure – Cast Retrieved 24 November 2012
- "HMS Tiptoe". Submariner's Association – Barrow-in-Furness Branch.
- "Films of the sea". Archives and collections society.
- The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision Database: S.14 vermist Retrieved 24 November 2012
- Morning Departure in the British Film Institute's "Explore film..." database
- Morning Departure at the British Film Institute's Film and TV Database
- Morning Departure at the British Board of Film Classification
- Morning Departure at the Internet Movie Database
- New York Times review of "Operation Disaster" January 15, 1951 Retrieved 2012-11-24