The Ship called the Mary Celeste is about to set sail, but it needs a crew and Captain Benjamin Briggs (Arthur Margetson) is looking for recruits. More important in his mind is his new wife, Sarah (Shirley Grey), who he plans to take on the voyage across the Atlantic to Britain, though there has been a love rivalry between him and his old friend, Captain Jim Moorehead (Clifford McLaglen), over Sarah that has created a rift between the two men that may never be healed. Briggs is probably better off at sea, away from such troubles... or is he?
The tale of the Mary Celeste, sometimes erroneously known as the Marie Celeste, is one of the great seafaring mysteries of all time, and one which seized the imaginations of the public in 1872 when the ship was found adrift in the North Atlantic with nobody on board and continues to exert a hold even today. The reason for this is that there will never be a satisfactory explanation as to what happened to the people on board, and just as such vanishing puzzles as the Roanoke Colony of the 16th century and the Flannan Isle lighthouse in 1900 endure, there will always be a place for such conundrums in popular culture.
This in spite of such diverse places as Doctor Who and The Goon Show coming up with their own explanations as to what really happened, but back in 1935, a small British production company was making its second film and cashing in on the enigma by presenting its own solution. That company was Hammer Films, making this the first ever Hammer horror, not that it shared much comparison with the kind of chillers that would make its name internationally a couple of decades later. This was strictly quota quickie material, although the budget did stretch to a few shots of the ship standing in for the Mary Celeste at sea.
The main draw for audiences as far as star power went would have been Bela Lugosi, here in the United Kingdom to continue his association with horror roles, already typecast as a villain. Of course, we're not supposed to realise that his sailor character is a bad guy until the very end, but even back in 1935 viewers must have taken one look at the crazed glint in his eye and thought, yup, there's the reason the crew disappeared right there. The plotting makes great play of the bad luck surrounding the voyage, so there are thirteen aboard, a woman is there too, and Bela brings his pet cat with him, a black moggy naturally.
Therefore all the signs are there that trouble is afoot, but the title would not only have been a giveaway about that, it would also strongly indicate that the number of survivors would be on the low side. As in non-existent. Before we get to the utterly unsurprising ending, there's a lot of business with the Captain's romance to trudge through which makes the already short running time seem longer than it is, and not helped by the fact that it is obviously included to pad out a flimsy storyline that sticks very loosely to whatever facts were known. The film picks up when Bela is onscreen, but not by much, and his religious fanaticism and massive grudge against the crew are no match for the true terror of frequent sea shanties that are inflicted on us. If you want to know about the famous mystery, there are better places to investigate than here.