“Morituri” (1965)

Rotten Tomatoes



Co-stars: Yul Brynner, Janet Margolin, Trevor Howard

Character: Robert Crain

Morituri tells the story of Robert Crain, a German pacifist who escapes a WWII tour of duty by fleeing to India. There he is affluent and lives a comfortable lifestyle, but the British military intelligence tracks him down and promises to send him back to Germany if he doesn’t carry out a sabotage in the interest of the Allies. His mission is to sabotage a German ship en route from Japan to Germany carrying the precious resource of rubber.  He has to prevent the ship from being scuttled, the act of a Captain intentionally sinking his ship, as the British wish to capture the rubber from the Germans. To get aboard the ship, he poses as an SS officer, and has the eyes of the ship’s Captain on him at all times.

“Morituri” is derived from the Latin term “morituri te salutamus“, meaning “we (or those) who are about to die salute thee”. It is a fitting if confusing movie title. As Crain plays the role of the SS officer (who’s behavior he doesn’t understand), he has to be suave, authoritative, and not draw attention to himself. As he skulks about the bottom of the ship sabotaging it, he is nearly seen or caught with every turn he takes. My breath was on hold with every close encounter. His mission is a suicidal one, and we know that the whole time watching the film.

The film is heavily weighed down by too many subplots. There are German political prisoners aboard the ship who wish to overthrow it so they don’t have to return to Germany, and who also wish to kill Crain, believing him to be an officer of the SS. A Jewish American girl is taken as a prisoner by another German vessel and handed over to the rubber ship, where she acts as more of metaphor for her people than an actual character. There is also Yul Brynner’s Captain Mueller, a career sailor with a tendency towards emotional drunkenness. Clocking in at over two hours, it becomes convoluted and tiring to watch, which is unfortunate due to the interesting and exciting nature of the first half of the film. It’s only partially satisfying- like when you want greasy take out pizza but pick one up at the grocery store to bake in your own oven instead.

The unfortunate thing is that Brando is really damn good as Robert Crain. He has that spot on German accent he rocked in The Young Lions again, and with his German heritage, it’s perfect. He teeters between compassion and self interest, and kept me on the edge of my seat with the potential that he could be revealed at any moment as a double agent. Yul Brynner was also strong and commanding in his role, and if the script and direction had matched the quality of their performances, it could have been a classic. Sadly, Morituri falls short of greatness.

Overall, the film is pretty decent, with great aspects that were crowded and weighed down by dead weight. I give it a thumb up. Morituri has successfully earned the participation award.

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