Pecks Old Sea Dogs are still a Goa
As a teenager during the 80s I use to watch "The Sea Wolves" and loved it, along with various other war/adventure movies where the British forces managed to outsmart the Germans. I never knew back then it was based on a true story, something I didn't know till I recently revisited this old favourite but sadly as is the case with so many movies that I was fond of during my younger years the recent revisit to "The Sea Wolves" showed that not only have my tastes changed but what I remember once being very good now feels distinctly average. The trouble with "The Sea Wolves" is that whilst the story itself is very good and the cast is equally as good it not only feels shockingly slow but also incredibly cheesy as it tries to inject a bit of humour into this daring tale of veterans trying to sabotage German boats. And as such whilst there is still something which is enjoyable about "The Sea Wolves" as we watch Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore lead a bunch of military vets it does end up struggling to be average.
When British Intelligence become suspicious that the Germans are using the neutral waters off of Goa to station 3 boats to transmit top secret shipping information to their u-boats, they send in Col. Lewis Pugh (Gregory Peck - How the West was Won) and Capt. Gavin Stewart (Roger Moore - The Wild Geese) to discover what is happening. But when they botch the operation and end up killing a top German spy it seems like there will be no way to stop the Germans. That is until Col. Pugh suggests using a bunch of military veterans from Calcutta Light Horse to sneak into Goa and blow up the 3 German boats. Despite having long been retired them men of the Calcutta Light Horse are still eager for action especially Col. W.H. Grice (David Niven - The Guns of Navarone) who along with explosives expert Major 'Yogi' Crossley relish the chance of seeing some action.
So as already mentioned "The Sea Wolves" is in fact based on the true story of "The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse" and is adapted from James Leasor's book "Boarding Party". But to enjoy it doesn't mean you need to know this true story because "The Sea Wolves" plays like countless other war movies where a group of men take on a daring mission to try and stop the German forces, think "Guns of Navarone" and you get the sort of idea. The difference though here is that we have a group of veterans, OAPs chosen to go on the dangerous raid and that means we have a touch of the "Wild Geese" about it. To put simply whilst we have this storyline based on a true story it does follow the same pattern that various other war movies follow.
But "The Sea Wolves" has one major issue and that is it is slow going especially as it tries to set up the story of the Germans having 3 boats in the neutral water off of Goa with one of them illegally broadcasting to the German u-boats. Over half of the movie seems to focus on Col. Lewis Pugh and Capt. Gavin Stewart trying to discover what is going on in Goa before it ever gets to the veterans being formed into an adhoc troop. And this makes it feel like it's treading water before the actual action and adventure can come to the fore. There is still action in this first half as both Lewis and Gavin run in to trouble during their spy like activities but it just seems like it's biding it's time.
It also doesn't help matters that director Andrew V. McLaglen tries to inject some humour into the story yet none of it ever really comes off. In fact it feels incredibly cheesy when you have Roger Moore, who plays Capt. Gavin Stewart, turning on the charm with a woman he meets in Goa. It just feels very forced and not that funny which is sadly the case of many of the intentionally funny moments and whilst it may have worked once it now makes "The Sea Wolves" quite corny.
The good news is that when it does eventually get around to these army veterans risking their lives to try and destroy these 3 German boats it does become entertaining. It may not be the most action packed series of scenes as they storm the boats, lay mines and blow things up but by keeping the action simple it is actually more believable, well to be honest with the likes of David Niven being 70 when this was made it would have been wrong for him to be doing any action man style antics. And on top of this the various moments of drama which is set up such as Capt. Stewarts lady friend actually working for the Germans adds a nice layer of excitement to things as it all comes to a head.
As for the casting, well with the storyline being about military vets getting one more shot a some action it is pretty spot on especially with many of the faces having appeared in war movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s. It almost makes it feel more believable when you have the likes of Gregory Peck who lead a military attack in The Guns of Navarone" playing an older military man leading these men in "The Sea Wolves". And to be honest from Gregory Peck through to Trevor Howard and taking in the likes of Patrick Macnee, David Niven and Kenneth Griffith they all give good performances. But there is an exception and that is Roger Moore as Capt. Gavin Stewart because for the simple reason he ends up coming across too much like James Bond especially in a couple of scenes where he takes on a couple of baddies whilst wearing a Tuxedo. It is sadly one of the reasons why "The Sea Wolves" ends up feeling cheesy and I suppose if you liked Roger Moore as James Bond then it may be more entertaining.
What this all boils down to is that "The Sea Wolves" is one of those war movies which were not only once the mainstay of British cinema but also by the start of the 80s had really run their course. It's not terrible and watching many stalwarts of British cinema having one last hoorah as they take on the Germans provides for some enjoyable action but it is also very slow going seeming to take an age to get to the action and spoilt by attempts to inject humour which end up making it feel cheesy.