The Ship That Died of Shame Review

Released in the US (heavily edited down to 78 minutes) under the title PT Raiders, The Ship That Died of Shame has finally been given a remastered edition, joining the ranks of the iconic Vintage Classics range. Directed by Ealing Studios regular Basil Dearden, the film may start with all the hallmarks of a bombastic flag-waving war epic, but unlike other war movies of its time (including The Dam Busters, which was released the same year), The Ship That Died of Shame is less about the triumph in facing adversity; it’s very much about what happens to the legion of service members in a post-war world.

After an opening that feels like a Greatest Hits of war every movie, we meet some of the crew of the 1087 (Royal Navy Motor Gun Boat) in the thick of it; victory is close at hand. The Second Great War has ended, and as the world attempts to put the pieces back together, George Hoskins (Richard Attenborough) convinces his former shipmates Bill Randall (George Baker) and Birdie (Bill Owen) that they should purchase their old boat for a new business venture. That venture turns out to be a bit of “light smuggling”, alcohol, luxury food, all the things people have had to do without during the war. People get the things they need and make a pile of cash; what could possibly be the harm?

What starts as relatively harmless quickly turns darker when Major Fordyce (Roland Culver) offers big paydays for riskier jobs. It’s only a short time before the cargo the crew of the 1087 carries becomes increasingly more dangerous, and what was once a beacon of hope has become a vessel of shame. The 1087 literally keeps breaking down. It might be an older boat, but its condition and unwillingness to go on serve as an excellent metaphor for Randall’s ever more burdened shoulders.

Dearden’s film isn’t painting a picture of wartime heroes; there’s already an endless array of those, The Ship That Died of Shame is more about the moral grey area, greed, and the actual cost of war. The 1087 was once home to unity and fighting the good fight, yet the actions it’s forced to partake in only tarnish every former triumph until the climatic moment the once proud ship sinks below the waves, doomed to a watery grave.

Initially released in 1955, there’s no denying that this is a bold story to tell barely a decade after the end of WW2, a slight yet compelling morality tale that isn’t afraid to ask lofty questions of its audience. It could be why the film isn’t regarded in the same classic status as many of its counterparts; hopefully, this stunning new restoration will change that.

The Ship That Died of Shame will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 11.

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