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Brando gives a powerful performance as a German deserter in this fact-based WWII drama, which was underestimated at the time.
A tense sea adventure.
Contando com o sempre fascinante Brando, o filme traz Brynner vivendo um personagem ambíguo e se beneficia de um roteiro complexo no qual os personagens estão sempre trocando de aliados. Pena que a conclusão seja tão improvável.
With that cast this should have been more involving but after a decent start if drags to its conclusion.
Marlon Brando is sabotaging yet another ocean voyage in "Mutiny on the Nazi Merchant Ship"! Actually, the familiarity doesn't end there, because the title makes reference to Suetonius', "Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant", quote to a Roman Caesar ("Julius Caesar"), and the film features Brando as a German during WWII, like "The Young Lions", so it would appear as though Brando's career through the late '50s and early '60s was leading up to this point. I'd say it's a real shame that it was a serious financial disappointment, but that makes it even more fitting as a follow-up to "The Young Lions" and "Mutiny on the Bounty". Those films and this film are pretty darn good, but they didn't exactly make Brando's star power, so much so that in a desperate attempt to make this film seem more commercial, they reissued it as "Saboteur: Code Name Morituri". That's too much to remember, so I don't know how exactly it made the film more marketable, unless, of course, they reissued this film in the late '80s and wanted to trick nerds into thinking that it is the film adaptation of "Strikeforce: Morituri". I'm not especially familiar with that comic, but I have heard about the premise, and it's even more convoluted than the title "Saboteur: Code Name Morituri" (I'm telling you, they should have gone with "Mutiny on the Nazi Merchant Ship"), so I can see where people would get confused for a different reasons. Hardly anyone wanted to see this film in the '60s, and no one wanted to see it in the '80s... or whenever it was re-released, which is bogus, because, again, it's pretty good, in spite of its flaws.
An intimate, humanly charged thriller, this drama thrives on subtlety, and that just makes it all the more glaring when the storytellers lapse into some sort of artificiality, in characterization, set piece designs, and dramatics. Contrivances are actually not that big of an issue, but when they do come into play, they typically fall over key moments in dramatic progression, their laziness stressed both in contrast with the gripping subtleties, and by the conventions that plague important areas throughout the course of this film. The character types are also familiar, and quite frankly, they stand to be more so, because even though expository shortcomings aren't glaring, to where you fail to get an adequate sense of background to the characters, the motivations in certain character actions feel rather hollow, being unconvincing and not quite enlightening to the layers of characters in this drama about the dark depths of humanity. These brief, but distinct missteps in characterization defuse the dramatic tension of this thriller, superficializing the consequence and importance of the subject matter, whose sense of urgency which ought to compensate for setbacks in emotional investment go challenged by a certain safeness of the time that the script sometimes does a good job of transcending through graphicness, and, of course, by the film's length. All of these contrivances, conventions, expository lapses, and hiccups in tension are recurrent, but somewhat meager issues that pale in comparison to the film's biggest problem: pacing, which is retarded by long lapses in material and progression that grow repetitious, further chilled out by cold spells in direction. The film is adequately entertaining pretty often, and when it isn't, its thoughtfulness either cuts deep, and falls over aimlessness and only exacerbates the blandness, which in turn exacerbates a sense of urgency in this undercooked and conventional thriller. The final product all but sputters out short of rewarding, but it compels pretty thoroughly more often than not, maintaining your investment sufficiently, and doing sufficient justice to promising subject matter.
It's the storytelling that's lacking in teeth, that is, from time to time, because the story itself, while rather familiar, it all around weighty, with a chilling sabotage tale, backed by thought-provoking themes regarding the dark depths in most everyone, especially during war. Daniel Taradash's script can do only so much to draw upon the edge of this subject matter, what with its being for a film of the 1960s, but he always delivers on wit to hold your attention adequately, and when he does challenge superficialities of the time, through graphic dialogue and somewhat artificial, but nonetheless audacious elements, his inspiration cuts like a knife. Taradash has ambitions, and can back it up with sharp highlights in writing, joined by direction by Bernhard Wicki that is just as inspired, particularly in style, accompanying Conrad L. Hall's black-and-white, sparsely lit, and largely silhouetted cinematography with airtight framing that draws you into bleak settings. The visual style of the film carries an immersion value that, amidst the thickening of the plot, becomes a fitting sense of claustrophobia, backed by thoughtful atmospherics that punctuate a couple dramatic contrivances, and are bland when material lapses, - as it often does - but prove penetrating under the right circumstances. Wicki's directorial inspiration is sound, endearing you through all of the shortcomings, until effectiveness proves to be gripping, with tension that provides a sense of consequence, while a sense of humanity goes defined by a solid cast full of talents (I have to address Wally Cox's presence as a German, just so I can say "Unterdog"!). Standouts from this cast include the incredibly beautiful Janet Margolin (She's badly miscast, though, because that nose is too blasted cute to be Jewish) as a disturbed Jew who is more bitter than fearful of her fate, and the intimidatingly intense Yul Brynner, whose engagingly convincing portrayal of an aggressive and dubious Nazi ship captain is worthy as the antagonistic answer to Marlon Brando's protagonistic performance, which is very Marlon Brando, with a convincing German accent, sure, but is nonetheless nuanced in its subtlety, within charisma, fear and vulnerability which convey a sense of unraveling in morality within a pacifist forced into a dangerous scenario that will shine an unsettling light in how he sees people. Every performance sells, being more consistent than the gutsy writing and direction in transcending superficialities of the time and overpowering this film's respective shortcomings, enough so to compel through and through, and reward those with the patience to take on this sometimes questionably drawn, but ultimately biting thriller.
When it comes time to salute... and hopefully not die right after, there is the occasional contrivance and a number of conventions, and they slow down dramatic momentum and a sense of urgency which are further diluted by periodically thin character motivations and by an excessive length, backed by a slow pace that just about blands the final product shy of rewarding, challenged by worthwhile subject matter whose being done a great deal of justice within intelligent and audacious writing, visually captivating and bitingly thoughtful direction, and inspired acting - especially by Janet Margolin, Yul Brynner and Marlon Brando - secure Bernhard Wicki's "Morituri" as a generally gripping and ultimately thought-provoking thriller.
3/5 - Good
In "Morituri," Captain Mueller(Yul Brynner) is incensed at having been demoted to being skipper of a boat taking 7000 tons of rubber to German occupied France, not to mention the political prisoners that will also be working in the engine room. To keep him placated, his superiors threaten him with wrecking his son's career if he does not cooperate. He would be even less happier if he knew that his new political officer is actually Robert Crain(Marlon Brando), a German engineer who deserted on the eve of war to India where he is being gleefully blackmailed by Colonel Statter(Trevor Howard). He not only wants the rubber to not reach its intended destination, but also wants the Allies to have it, ordering Crain to scuttle the scuttling devices, of which he has no idea where on board they might be.
There is a great movie in "Morituri" just waiting to get out but it just does not entirely pull it off and put all of the pieces together. However, it is fun watching Brando and Brynner play a high stakes game of cat and mouse between two characters who are in the same boat, so to speak. So, on the one hand, there is a lot of old fashioned intrigue, but in the last half hour, reality creeps steadily in, almost from another movie entirely. I know this is meant to give the pacifist Crain a sense of purpose, but he seems to be doing pretty well up until then. The movie made in 1965, might have included this more as information intended towards the audience which might have been more ignorant of the Holocaust than we are now.
An underrated gem in Brando's career that presents an astute approach to character dynamics and suspense. Directed and photographed with expertise, this is a top-notch espionage thriller that engages from its first scene until the grim conclusion. Marlon Brando's understated performance is also immensely underappreciated, and Yul Brynner does a great job too.
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