Morituri (1965) B
Bernhard Wicki directed this World War II espionage drama, in which Marlon Brando plays Robert Crain, a German deserter who is coerced by British Intelligence officer Colonel Statter (Trevor Howard) to impersonate a Gestapo officer in order to get aboard a German blockade runner that’s conveying a rubber cargo from the Orient.
The book on which it is based was written by Werner Joerg Luedecke, who was a German naval attaché in Tokyo during the Second World War, until it was discovered that he was partly Jewish. He was then sent back to Germany on a freighter as a prisoner and ended up in a punishment battalion on the Russian front. Much of the material is inspired by his own experiences. In order to achieve greater of authenticity, Rosenberg brought in director Wicki and several German actors.
The feature’s title refers to the words spoken to the Roman emperors by gladiators before a combat, “Morituri te Salutamus,” which translates into “We who are about to die salute you.”
Crain’s assignment is to save the rubber by finding a way to deactivate the explosives that the ship’s captain would use to destroy the ship if captured by the enemy.
But the ship’s commander Captain Mueller (Yul Brynner), skeptical of the Nazis, refuses to let Crain out of his sight. When survivors of a sunken vessel board the ship, and Crain realizes that his identity may be exposed by rescued German submarine officers, he incites Mueller’s officers and the new arrivals to mutiny before his true identity is revealed.
Despite positive review, the movie was a box-office flop. The studio, not knowing how tom market the film, blamed the obscure, unappealing title. The picture was rereleased as “Saboteur: Code Name Morituri.”
Producer Aaron Rosenberg hired Marlon Brando for the lead in “Morituri” despite tensions during the making of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which he also had produced. Ironically, there are similarities between the two films. “Morituri” also deals with conflict and mutiny aboard a ship and, unfortunately, the production was plagued by similar problems during the shoot.
Brando did not get along well with German director Bernhard Wicki. Brando has always been a slow and meticulous actor, never ready to approve a scene unless he considered it right, and yet he was intolerant of Wicki’s similar attitude, complaining that the director would do too many takes of each scene.
Wicki requested a shoot of 90 days, but the studio ordered the film shot in 60. As a result, “Morituri” ran over budget and beyond its schedule and proved to be a bad experience for Wicki, working in Hollywood for the first time.
Wicki had distinguished himself in Germany with his film “The Bridge,” but his method of working was foreign to the Hollywood style of filmmaking.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Cinematography (b/w): Conrad Hall
Costume Design (b/w): Moss Mabry
Oscar Awards: None
The Cinematography Oscar went to Ernest Laszlo for “Ship of Fools.” The Costume Design was earned by Julie Harris for “Darling.”
Robert Crain (Marlon Brando)
Captain Mueller (Yul Brynnre)
Esther (Janet Margolin)
Colonel Statter (Trevor Howard)
Kruse (Martin Benrath)
Donkeyman (Hans Christian Blech)
Dr. Ambach (Wally Cox)
Branner (Max Haufler)
Milkereit (Rainer Penkert)
Arcola-Colony Production, released by Fox
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg.
Directed by Bernard Wicki.
Associate Producer: Barney Rosenzweig.
Screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by Werner Joerg Luedecke.
Camera: Conrad Hall.
Art direction by Jack Martin Smith and Herman A. Blumenthal.
Edited by Joseph Silver.
Musical score by Jerry Goldsmith.
Running time: 128 minutes.
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