Moore Not Less - The Sea Wolves

The Sea Wolves reunited director Andrew V McLaglen, composer Roy Budd and Roger Moore with several cast members from The Wild Geese - although sadly Richard Burton and Richard Harris are absent. Actors from The Guns of Navarone also feature - The Guns of Navarone in many ways the film that The Sea Wolves is trying to be.
The screenplay is based on a real World War 2 operation that involved expatriate British veterans known as the Calcutta Light Horse Brigade undertaking a secret mission in Goa to disable transmissions being made to German U-Boats. The real life veterans are paid tribute to in the closing credits and we are also reminded that as a result of the Goa raid the amount of Allied shipping lost in the Indian Ocean fell dramatically.
The producer Euan Lloyd complained that the film wasn't marketed very well by the studio and it wasn't a tremendous success in the end. The most notable casting besides Roger was Gregory Peck as the lead and veterans David Niven and Trevor Howard. While The Sea Wolves is hardly the greatest war adventure film ever made it is at least pleasant to see all these famous names onscreen together.
It's World War 2 and Britain is losing shipping in the Indian Ocean to German U-Boats. The Special Operations Executive in India suspect that a German ship docked in Goa is secretly sending information about Allied shipping to U-Boats. The problem? Goa is a Portuguese colony and so classified as neutral. No official military operation can be undertaken there. However, an unofficial operation is another matter and one is soon put into action.
Special Operatives Colonel Lewis Pugh (Gregory Peck) and Captain Gavin Stewart (Roger Moore) turn to the Calcutta Light Horse Brigade - Boer and First World War veterans who are still keen to do their bit for King and Country. Colonel Bill Grice (David Niven) will lead these plucky old codgers in their secret mission to terminate the Jerry communications in Goa.
The Sea Wolves is a doggedly old-fashioned film that always runs the risk of feeling like old hat for 1980. There is a Matt Munro song as the theme and it only makes the film seem even more old-fashioned. The Sea Wolves takes a while to get going too and is probably the lesser of the three films Roger Moore made with Andrew V McLaglen around this time.
McLaglen is (perhaps unfairly) remembered as something of a journeyman and this is definitely him in point and shoot mode with the actors coasting along and no great flamboyance coming from behind the camera. One good thing about The Sea Wolves though is that it comes from that age before computers and studio trickery took over and so has some good authentic looking Indian locations.

Unlike North Sea Hijack, Roger's Bond image is played up much more in The Sea Wolves. The Wild Geese and (more so) North Sea Hijack saw Roger go against his familar image but The Sea Wolves doesn't stretch him much. He has gunfights and scraps and wears a tuxedo. He even hits the gaming tables and karate chops someone!
Rog looks good in his military uniforms too. They lose him somewhat in a subplot though where he has to help create a diversion for the attack with a big party and fiesta to be used to distract the German sailors. Moore is given a romance with Barbara Kellerman's sociey dame Mrs Cromwell, a woman with a secret. The secret comes as no real surprise.
The Sea Wolves has been criticised for its rather anachronistic air and Roger is a symptom of this too with his longish hair and safari jacket. I'm no expert but I'd imagine that a British military officer in the early 1940s would be expected to have a good short back and sides. There is a decent amount of humour in the film that mostly lands with a clunk. You do start to feel like you've already seen this film before while you are watching it. Not just The Wild Geese comparisons but countless war pictures.
David Niven is clearly getting too old for these types of films by now but he does manage to convince you that he's a retired soldier with one more adventure left in him. His old world charm and class shines through. The nostalgic air of The Sea Wolves is a deliberate throwback to all those vintage World War 2 films and if anyone is going to save the day it might as well be David Niven.

It's great to see Trevor Howard too and it wouldn't be a British adventure film from this era without the distinctive voice of Patrick Allen. Allen ended up as the ironic links announcer for Channel 4.
Gregory Peck grapples with his English accent throughout and never really manages to get it in a good headlock or pin it to the canvas but he's Gregory Peck so it doesn't matter too much even if he does appear to be half asleep for much of the film. Kenneth Griffith plays the mechanic Wilton and brings his usual sense of eccentricity and whimsy.
The last act of the film - when we finally get the military secret mission - is just about worth the wait and the photography at sea does at least make The Sea Wolves look like a good production. It's reasonably tense when our heroes run into trouble and try to finish their task. You should stay for the action at the end but as far as pensioners on a mission films go The Wild Geese was more exciting and had a harder edge to it.
This is watchable enough but The Sea Wolves is certainly no Where Eagles Dare or Guns of Navarone.
- Jake

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