Richard Widmark and Lionel Barrymore in Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)

Stockwell at Sea

Captain Bering Joy (Lionel Barrymore) has lived his life on the seas just like his father before him learning all about the whaling business and Bering hopes his young grandson Jed (Dean Stockwell) will follow suit. Knowing he has one more voyage in him Bering takes Jed with him in the hope of teaching him the ropes but at the same time having new First Mate, the college educated Dan Lunceford (Richard Widmark), carry on Jed's classes. But it leads to tension between Bering and Dan as young Jed starts to idolise Dan whilst the perils of sailing through freezing fog causes an ever present danger for them all.

For the first 20 minutes of "Down to the Sea in Ships" I wondered whether I was watching the right movie as whilst there was Lionel Barrymore as an old sea dog and young Dean Stockwell as the grandson he dotes on we were ashore in New Bedford with Captain Bering taking Jed to a school. Nothing wrong with that but it is a scene which goes on for some time and you question where the movie is going. Of course there is a point to all this as it establishes how much Bering dotes on his grandson and making sure he has a right education.

Dean Stockwell in Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)

But this all leads to this amusing battle between Bering and Dan as the old sea dog sees how fond his grandson has become of Dan. There is also the humour of Bering trying to keep up with the knowledge of the young Dan who much to Bering's surprise shows wisdom beyond his years when it comes to being a whaler. And of course this then turns into an emotional adventure movie with dangers, life changing events which change people's attitudes and turns boys in to men. I won't go in to specifics but will say that despite being over 60 years old and having quite a familiar narrative it draws you in with an engaging adventure and likeable characters.

What this all boils down to is that "Down to the Sea in Ships" is an old movie which still has the ability to entertain with a tale which has everything from adventure to coming of age.