Two Years Before The Mast

  • 1946
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Ladd is the spoiled son of a shipowner who, while drinking in a waterfront dive in Boston one evening, finds himself the victim of Bendix and his gang. He wakes up shanghaied, on board the Pilgrim bound for the California coast and back. Conditions on the ship are appalling, and the captain, da Silva, drives the men ruthlessly in quest of a record time...read more

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Ladd is the spoiled son of a shipowner who, while drinking in a waterfront dive in Boston one evening, finds himself the victim of Bendix and his gang. He wakes up shanghaied, on board the Pilgrim bound for the California coast and back. Conditions on the ship are appalling, and the

captain, da Silva, drives the men ruthlessly in quest of a record time on his voyage. Da Silva had earlier been drummed out of the Navy for cruelty to his men, and his manners have improved none since. Men are flogged for the slightest offense, with first mate Bendix working as the captain's

enforcer. Ladd develops an ally in the person of Donlevy, whose brother died on one of da Silva's voyages and who is gathering material to write a book on the horrid conditions seamen are forced to endure. They reach California and pick up a passenger, the beautiul Fernandez. The men want to go

ashore to gather fresh fruit and water, but da Silva wants to get back underway immediately. On the return voyage, scurvy breaks out among the crew and mutinous thoughts spread. Pushed beyond all endurance, Ladd steals two guns and tries to take over the ship, but he is quickly subdued by Bendix

and put in irons. Eventually da Silva goes too far and even Bendix turns against him. Without hesitation da Silva kills his first mate. Now the crew rises up en masse and kills the tormentor. They argue for taking the ship to China, but Ladd and Donlevy persuade them to sail back to Boston to face

the charges. The trial causes a sensation, and the controversy eventually comes up before Congress, which, thanks also to the book Donlevy has written, passes legislation guaranteeing the rights of men on the high seas. A depressing and dark film that conveys effectively the oppressive conditions

endured by sailors of the period. Ladd is better than usual as the spoiled young man who grows in character as he suffers under the lash. Donlevy is intelligent and concerned and more believable than such a character should be. Fitzgerald is effective as the cook with a sinister streak, but it is

da Silva, as the tyrannical Captain Thompson, who steals the picture. His bearing of formality and discipline masks a sadist. Though the filming went smoothly, the same cannot be said of the cast's stomachs. The ship set was built in four pieces, all of them on hydraulic lifts that could recreate

the rolling motion of a ship on the ocean. Da Silva recalled later that most of the cast came down with seasickness even though they were inside a Hollywood sound stage. Shot in 1944, the film was held up for two years for an assortment of reasons before finally emerging in 1946 to excellent

reviews and a healthy return at the box office.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Ladd is the spoiled son of a shipowner who, while drinking in a waterfront dive in Boston one evening, finds himself the victim of Bendix and his gang. He wakes up shanghaied, on board the Pilgrim bound for the California coast and back. Conditions on the… (more)

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