Universal // 1952 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 5th, 2011
A whole new world of adventure sweeps the screen!
I think most of us can agree that Gregory Peck was a fine actor. Like all actors, he had his share of ups and downs, but Peck was generally a solid screen presence and managed to produce a few iconic turns over the course of his career. He was a striking Captain Ahab in John Huston's Moby Dick, an appropriately grim lead in Stanley Kramer's On the Beach and the epitome of decency as Atticus Finch in Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. However, Peck isn't quite suited to playing a wild, dangerous ladykiller, which is precisely the sort of character he's asked to essay in The World in His Arms.
Peck plays Captain Jonathan Clark, a rough n' rowdy sea captain who spends much of his time poaching seal pelts in Russian Alaska. He's got a mind to make Alaska his own, and is cooking up a business deal to purchase part of it. At the moment, Clark is enjoying some R&R in San Francisco, where he meets the Russian Countess Marina Selanova (Anne Blythe, Mildred Pierce). Despite having a reputation as a philandering womanizer, Clark falls madly in love with Marina and determines to marry her. Alas, things get complicated when it's revealed that Marina is already engaged to the stern Prince Semyon (Carl Esmond, Sergeant York).
The World in His Arms is a very large, very loud, very silly film which seems to have ambitions of being a joyful entertainment but makes far too many wrong-headed decisions to come close to achieving that goal. We're meant to take the sinister developments involving Prince Semyon seriously, but the film is pitched at such a slapstick level that it's hard to believe anything remotely bad could actually happen to the protagonists. The film boasts a large supporting cast of enthusiastic overactors; each seems determined to walk away with the biggest laughs and instead manages to elicit plus-sized groans.
However, every performance in the film is dried noodles in contrast to Anthony Quinn, who plays the slippery Portugee (yes, that's his name) with the gusto of a mad bomber. There's no line reading too overcooked for Quinn; cackling his way through the material in a manner which makes the rigid Peck seem positively corpse-like. Quinn's performance is entertaining for a while, but the character is given too much screen time: by the time the inevitable boat race between Clark and Portugee arrives, we've grown very tired of the actor's cartoony schtick.
Peck certainly doesn't overplay his role, but that's precisely the problem: everyone keeps talking about what a wild and crazy guy Clark is, while Peck keeps demonstrating what a stiff and awkward guy Clark is. The role certainly seems beyond the reserved Peck's abilities as an actor, but there's also a sense that Peck wasn't that interested in bringing anything to the party. He seems bored with the proceedings, offering banal line readings in his scenes with Blythe (who -- while we're on the subject -- is one of the least convincing cinematic Russians I've ever seen) and failing to bring any measure of dramatic intensity to his big moments. Perhaps someone should have clarified the meaning of "devil-may-care" for him: "Gregory, we meant that your character shouldn't care about the potential consequences of his actions, not that you shouldn't care about your lines."
The film is directed by Raoul Walsh, a hard-working film veteran who helmed over 100 features between 1914 and 1964 (including The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra and White Heat). He seems to have lost control of this one, turning in a disjointed, messy experience that never quite manages to come together at any point. The big boat race late in the film (with the actors pretending to sail against a projected ocean backdrop) is disappointingly botched, as the chaotic sound design and unimaginative direction kills any sense of fun the sequence might have had.
At least the DVD looks solid, as this technicolor adventure receives a very crisp, detailed full-frame transfer (no worries, it was shot that way). Audio is okay, though the dialogue is a little muffled from time to time. There are no extras on the disc aside from a theatrical trailer.
The World in His Arms was previously released as part of The Gregory Peck Film Collection (it was deemed by most critics, including our own Judge Ben Saylor, as the weakest film of that set), but if you have some special hankering to own this disaster by itself, here you go.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated