Across to Singapore (1928)
Directed by William Nigh with titles by Academy Award winner Joseph Farnham this silent drama stars Ramon Novarro Joan Crawford and Ernest Torrence. Set in a (New England?) sailing community Novarro and Crawford play childhood playmates who have grown up he into a man almost big enough to sail with his brother’s (Torrence) ship she into a woman old enough to be betrothed. When Torrence’s ship the Nathan Ross returns from a 2 year journey the conflict begins: big brother falls for little brother’s girl and their father (with her father) arranges a marriage between her and the older brother. Throw in a first mate (Jim Mason) who’s jealous that little brother appears to be next in line for the ship’s helm and you’ve got a very good story with lots of action worth seeing despite the poor quality of the print I saw on TCM recently.
The Shores are a sailing family father Jeremiah (Frank Currier) has long since retired and given the reigns to his oldest son burly Mark (Torrence); Mark’s first mate is his brother Noah (Dan Wolheim). The youngest son Joel (Novarro) plays with childhood sweetie Priscilla (Crawford) while he dreams of one day sailing with his brothers. Mark’s ship the Nathan Ross returns to port after a 2 year voyage bringing goods from far off lands as the entire community celebrates. Mark immediately notices that both Joel and Priscilla have grown much since he last saw them. That evening at dinner he notices Priscilla even more; flirting with her even as Joel tries to interrupt by playing pranks on his older brother. Mark “falls hard” for Priscilla and while Joel is upstairs being put to bed by Mark Priscilla’s father (Edward Connelly) and Jeremiah arrange for their betrothal (Mark’s & Priscilla’s that is) to be announced at the next morning’s church services.
Refusing to go to bed quietly and assisted by Priscilla who kisses him Joel dresses in one of Mark’s over-sized sea “uniforms” and catches up with his brothers including Matthew (Duke Martin) at the local pub. Soon joined by young Joel the four get involved in a fight with some other seamen over who has the better ship etc.. Joel manages to avoid the fight but after it’s over is able to fool his brothers into thinking he was part of it despite his lack of any markings. In church the next morning much to everyone but the father’s surprise Mark’s & Priscilla’s engagement is announced. Joel and Priscilla are both clearly surprised and upset but Priscilla seems to go along with it. When next the Nathan Ross sails per the bar fight Joel has earned his place on the ship. Though Priscilla comes to see the ship off she withdraws from Mark’s kisses on two occasions; Joel will have nothing of her affections reminding her that she’s engaged to his oldest brother. On the journey it becomes clear to one of the more experienced mates Finch (Mason) that his chances of being first mate and/or captain of the Nathan Ross one day are slim and none given the succession of Shore brothers which now includes Joel. During a particularly vicious storm around Cape Horn he acts and Noah is killed when he falls overboard; Mark had been powerless to help him given his drunken sorrow over Priscilla’s shunning of his affections.
In the port of Singapore Finch’s actions become even bolder. He conspires to have Mark killed by a local gang while he has Joel accused a coward for not helping his brother in the fight. Mark is not really killed but is too wounded to return to the Nathan Ross before it sails so he’s thought dead. We learn later that he’s befriended by a local girl (Anna May Wong uncredited) while he drinks to excess because of his predicament. Meanwhile after returning home even though he’s shunned as a coward Joel assembles a crew to take the Nathan Ross back to Singapore to find Mark. He “forces” Priscilla to come with him. Finch and the ship’s original crew also reluctantly come along but an inevitable conflict is brewing since Finch knows if Mark is found alive his goose is cooked.
*** SPOILERS ***
Once in Singapore Joel & Priscilla find the drunken Mark who is enraged to “discover” that Joel is the one that Priscilla loves. However shortly thereafter a fight between Joel’s hired hands and Finch’s crew ensues. During the fight Mark is mortally wounded by Finch and then Joel kills his brother’s murderer. Before he dies Mark gives Joel & Priscilla his blessing.