Military, former POWs and a war criminal are lost at sea after a plane crash in this interesting B.
Seven Were Saved (1947) is a decent Pine-Thomas B about survivors of a downed military flight adrift in a life raft for several days while the air/sea rescue planes scour the area trying to find them. To make it more than just a search story, director William Pine and writer Maxwell Shane throw in plenty of personal entanglements, relationships and futures at stake. We first meet Russell Hayden, one of the more accomplished and busy rescue pilots, as he’s doing just that, rushing to save people in jeopardy at sea so he can get back to the base where his girl, nurse Catherine Craig is waiting. They haven’t seen each other for ages and now that the war is over she expects them to leave the military behind and start a new life together. When Hayden says he’ll be at this job for months more, Craig is crushed, leaves Hayden and storms off on her next transport flight, practically into the arms of pilot Richard Denning, her close friend and colleague for the past year. Besides Craig and Denning and his copilots, on this plane we also have an amnesiac man (Keith Richards) who along with Ann Doran and John Eldredge makes three former prisoners of the Japanese, and for maximum drama we also have one Japanese officer (Richard Loo) being taken to his war crimes trial, and his couple of U.S. soldier escort guards. Shortly after takeoff, Doran recognizes the amnesiac and collapses from shock, while the Japanese criminal throws coffee in his guards’ faces and breaks into the cockpit. He orders Denning to fly to a remote island, and they are well on their way, hundreds of miles off course, when a struggle breaks out and the plane crashes into the sea. Thus begins their ordeal while Russell Hayden ruins his health making numerous flights to find his girl.
Some IMDb reviewers call this a cut rate Lifeboat, and it clearly is a cheap B where a storm at sea means unseen hands rocking the raft and tossing buckets of water into the actor’s faces. But really any movie in a lifeboat might be called some version of Lifeboat, and this one’s not at all bad, with lots of drama, characters that are more than cardboard and actors interesting enough to spend almost a week adrift with. Besides the Hayden-Craig-Denning love triangle, another one arises from the moment Doran gets her shocking glimpse of Richards; turns out he’s her husband and she was told he had died at their POW camp. Now he has no idea who she is, and she’s there with her new husband, Eldredge. While in the raft, she keeps asking Richards questions and telling him some of their past to make him remember, though it’s not clear what she would do if it really did all come back to him. At a desperate moment Doran begins singing a hymn, everyone joins in, and Richards clearly begins to remember. While the situation of being stuck with your two husbands in a raft might seem gimmicky and silly to some, it’s done in suitably melodramatic style and the outcome of their dilemma was not at all predictable to me.
When Eldredge is jealous or threatened by Richards’ presence, he directs it all at Loo, asking repeatedly why they should save and then waste rations on the very enemy who kept them imprisoned and now has caused their plane to crash. One of the survivors tells the story behind that too, and the tension of having this hated Japanese man there never eases; he presents a constant danger. Denning is calm and steady, teaching the others how to use the stars to navigate, but with one eye injured in the crash and the other blinded after days in the sun, and after a recovery from capsizing where they’ve lost oars, sail and rations, Denning struggles to put on a brave face, and confides in Craig that he doesn’t believe in himself.
Craig is the strongest one here, keeping her head while being resourceful and quick to help, which is amazing considering she just had her heart broken, has to tend not only to the nervous amnesiac and the blinded Denning, but also to Eldredge’s broken leg, a jolly book-quoting Sergeant (George Tyne) who gets bitten by a shark while trying to patch the leaky raft, and a feverish Lieutenant (Byron Barr). Craig somehow remains elegant and pretty while also looking realistically worn, worried and exhausted. This was one of her juiciest roles in her busiest years, a time when she appeared in Albuquerque with Randolph Scott and The Pretender with Albert Dekker. In 1950 she would retire but remained connected to entertainment as she was Robert Preston’s wife. Seven Were Saved ratchets up the suspense as the raft is finally found, but without any signs of life. Who survived, is there a trick to the film’s title, and what becomes of the triangles? If you can overlook some really obvious signs of quick, low budget filmmaking mixed in with lots of footage of real planes and fascinating rescue methods, you will get all those answers in an enjoyable adventure melodrama that was totally worth 73 minutes of my time.