Action in the North Atlantic 1943

This movie has more model ship action per foot of film than than perhaps any other movie ever made. It was conceived during the second World war to hi-light the contribution to the war effort of the merchant navy. Like many films of the period, it relies heavily on miniatures to tell the story, it not being possible to film on any real ships as they were all otherwise engaged.

The miniatures were filmed using a real horizon in Santa Barbara harbor.  Byron Haskin who was the head of the special effects department at Warner Brothers, mentions in a Directors Guild of America Oral History book, interviewed by Joe Adamson, that they strung wires across from Stearns Wharf to the shore at the yacht club with which to control the model convoy. The miniatures were built to 1 inch to the foot or 1/12 scale. He states there were as many as 450 separate miniatures used in the show. He goes on to say that there was a man in each ship controlling the steering of the small inboard motors. I suspect that the wires were for the background ships while the motorised ones were carving up the waves in the foreground. Jack Cosgrove was the supervisor for the miniature effects shoot.

The model work is really spectacular and always full of vigorous movement. There is a lot going on in the shots with a large number of ships in each frame of the convoy scenes. All the explosions are enhanced by a violent jarring and shaking of the camera blurring the footage which is quite effective. This effect was applied later by use of the optical printer.

All this adds up to it being one of all time great model ship movies.






































































































































































































Hell and High Water 1954

With bucket loads of  cool Cinemascope model sub action, this comic book cold war movie is a fine example of the best quality miniature work from the period.
There is a sequence consisting of the destruction of large fuel tanks  lifted almost entirely from another terrific sub movie “Crash Dive” whose effects were handled by the legendary Fred Sersen. It may be that the miniature sub is the same model as that from Crash Dive as well even though it is supposed to be an ex WW2 Japanese sub in the film.

Ray Kellog, is credited with the special photographic effects and the results are fairly impressive. He became head of the special effects department at 20th Century Fox in 1952 after Fred Sersen.  The miniature atomic explosion that precedes the title and reappears at the end is a spectacular pyrotechnic effect.

There is a model plane and a matte painting which is, I think, supposed to be a B29 but which doesn’t look much like one at all.






























































































Lord Jim 1965

Based on a Joseph Conrad novel this movie adaption some how does not quite add up to the sum of it’s parts but none the less has some well staged model ship action. The model is of a clapped out death trap, the coastal freighter Patna, which in a typhoon, leads to the downfall of the hero who then spends the rest of the film trying to atone for his error in judgement.

The typhoon model work is very well shot. The special effects are attributed to two very famous British special effects men Cliff Richardson (the father of John Richardson), who was well known for large scale on set physical effects in the blockbuster movies of the age as well as model work and Wally Veevers known for almost everything to do with visual effects including model work and whose next film after this was Kubrick’s 2001 a space Odyssey.



















NorthSea Hijack (aka ffolkes) 1979

This quirky tale features Roger Moore as a strange cat loving woman hating leader of a team of specialist underwater saboteurs. More importantly, as far as this site is concerned, it also has some very fine miniature tank work supervised by John Richardson.

There is a couple of miniature oil platforms, a rig service vessel and a couple of miniature helicopters involved in the action of the story. Particularly noteworthy is the tiny mechanical figure which can be seen walking on a gangway of the rig to impart some life to the miniature.

This is a film that I originally caught late night on TV in the 80’s and was astounded at the quality of the miniature work, having never heard of the film. I would love to know more about the miniatures but have never once come across any information of any kind about the film’s model shoot.










Small orange figure ( Top middle ) walks along side of model. It has some very mechanical motion but is just glimpsed in the film and is quite effective.