Much is dominating the news in the last few days about the cruise liner shipwreck off the coast of Italy. Death toll rising while ship Captain being questioned about his incompetency to handle the emergency when the ship hit rocks and began sinking. According to reports he abandoned ship, and his responsibilities as Captain.

This behavior is so deja vu in the history of other shipwrecks and their captains in times of tragedy. And probably everyone is familiar with the Titanic and the blockbuster movie about that sinking.

This is a story about a movie and another great luxury liner on the seas thirty years-plus, the Ile De France, which was sold to the Japanese, and a US film director contracted to make the movie “The Last Voyage” using the ship, when it was anchored in the harbor of Osaka, Japan, in the mid-fifties, and starring Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, George O’Brian and George Sanders as the ship’s captain. A very superb and realistic drama, filled with nail-biting suspense.

The film tells of the effect a sinking ocean liner has on its crew and passengers, most notably its Captain (George Sanders), whose inner turmoil overtakes his experience and professionalism, and the story of a desperate passenger (Robert Stack) trying to save his wife (Dorothy Malone) and daughter; and how he interferes with the Captain’s duty to save the crew. In a climactic finale the Captain makes a decision, but too late.

I had been living in Japan awhile when the film crew landed to make the film. I was living in Tokyo at the time and had been working in Japanese films and doing Japanese TV commercials, when offered a job to go to southern Japan to the city of Osaka, to work on the film as a passenger. I was there from the beginning to the finale of the film, and it was a very interesting experience. Got to know the stars and crew and the film makers, cinematographer and producers.

I learned the main purpose of the plot was to show the incompetence of most ship captains in times of distress and tragedy. That most captains spent a great deal of their time acting in the capacity of social director to mingle with passengers, dine and drink with them and are unequipped to deal with emergencies, and they fall apart.

I understood the making of that film “The Last Voyage” had prompted changes in the protocol of ship management and subsequently cruise ships were required to have two captains, one to deal with the social aspects of life aboard and another, trained to handle the functions of the ship itself.

That’s why I was so surprised hearing on the news reports of the ineptitude of the Captain handling the tragedy of his ship hitting the rocks in the waters of Italy.

The making of the film The Last Voyage aboard the luxury liner Ile De France was very realistic and nothing faked. The ship was actually set on fire and sunk. Frogmen were dressed up like women jumping from the deck of the ship as it sank, parts of the ship were blown apart, and towards the end it was quite dangerous working on the film. After sinking it was raised up out of the water. Several workers were injured during the filming.

All the crew and actors stayed in hotels in Osaka and taken in little dinghies back and forth to the ship anchored in the local harbor of Osaka, each day. It was a fascinating experience, and I still have a couple of mementos from the ship, like the dining room menu, and lots of pictures from the making of the film. Plus news items from the Japan Times.

Because I lived in Japan and was more familiar with the culture, I would go shopping with some of the crew, and others like Robert Stack’s wife and Dorothy Malone’s mother. After completion I returned to Tokyo, and some of the crew and actors called me and I showed them around Tokyo, and we dined at some of the fabulous restaurants in Tokyo. Most had a layover staying at Frank LLoyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, one of my very favorite places to stay in the fifties era.

Seeing all the news coverage of the shipwreck in Italy brought back many memories of my experiences during the filming of The Last Voyage. And the times I traveled by ship, like two weeks aboard going to Japan and two weeks aboard when I returned. Plus a trip via ship to Okinawa for two weeks while living in Japan for four years. Lots of exciting experiences and a lot of playing Bridge.

Now I am retired and living quietly in a small town in the northern part of Georgia, spending time writing, and playing with my six year old grandson, recalling some of my travels and experiences, it all seems like another life I lived as I recall those past years.



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