The Gift Horse (1952)
The Sea Horse
As a movie reviewer I often hear people moan about modern movies being unoriginal, trading on just the stars and not as good as old movies. Now in part I agree but it seems to me people forget that the old movies we see now are generally the better ones and those which were poor or barely average or traded on star names to lift an unoriginal idea are forgotten about. You may ask why I mention this but "The Gift Horse" is one of those movies because other than a couple of power scenes what we have is a routine sea bound war movie which heavily realise on its star packed cast. It doesn't have much of a storyline instead giving us a collection of episodes all of which have little depth but there is nothing wrong with "The Gift Horse", just that it is very ordinary.
As part of 50 destroyers which the US give the British in 1940, Lt. Cmdr Hugh Alginon Fraser (Trevor Howard - The Third Man) takes command of a dirty old destroyer and through his task master attitude has his men make it battle ready. His strictness doesn't go down with all the men from 1st Officer Lt. Richard Jennings (James Donald - The Great Escape) through to the seamen below decks such as Dripper Daniels (Richard Attenborough - Morning Departure) who moans continuously at all the extra work they are given. Over their time together their is happiness as love is found, sorrow as loved ones die and not to forget a few fights as the men defend the honour of their captain all of which before they are picked for a hugely important mission.
"The Gift Horse" starts with a bit of history as we are briefly informed of the 50 destroyers which were given to the British in exchange for land and the final scenes are based on a true mission the raid on St. Nazaire known as Operation Chariot. But that is where the facts end because for the most "The Gift Horse" plays out as a snapshot of life aboard a Navy vessel during World War II. And as such what we get up is a compete variety of episodes and far too many to mention in this review with many being brief scenes which never fully connect with the rest of the movie.
Out of these episodes we have the typical emotion as various officers have to deal with the death of loved ones and friends none more so than Fraser himself whose son enlist in the navy. There are also episodes of romance as one of the seamen known as Yank finds love with Gladys a waitress in a milk bar. We also get some typical bar room brawls, one of which is nicely played out using photos on the wall of boxers in fighting poses ending with one of Sid James in a boxing pose, James plays the barman in the scene. And we also get various scenes aboard the ship, from men being disciplined to having to clean the decks. But there is no real storyline which connects these episodes, not even one which mentions Fraser's previous scrape with the man who is now his boss and which led to him retiring before being called back into active service.
It is a shame that there is not a stronger storyline to connect all these episodes because it ends up just that a collection of typical war movie episodes you would see in superior Navy movies. And the knock on effect of this is that "The Gift Horse" ends up being all about the star names in their various roles rather than their characters. That means Trevor Howard is reliable as the stiff upper lip Frasier whilst James Donald is just as British and proper as his No. 1 Jennings. Then you have a bit of fun with Richard Attenborough and Bernard Lee as seamen who are friends and get into a bit of trouble. And just to add some femininity Joan Rice adds a touch of beauty whilst the wonderful Dora Bryan adds some working class cuteness. It is again all very typical with these actors delivering nothing more than what they were given to do in other movies.
What this all boils down to is that "The Gift Horse" ends up feeling like a collection of typical episodes you would see in over Naval war movies and relying on the popularity of the stars to make it work. It's not terrible and some of the scenes have a huge impact but it is not memorable and seems more to have been made because in 1952 war movies were the order of the day rather than to tell some amazing story.
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