THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME. General Film Distributors, UK, 1955. Continental Distributing, US, 1956, as PT Raiders. Richard Attenborough, George Baker, Bill Owen, Roland Culver, Bernard Lee, Virginia McKenna. Screenplay by John Whiting, Michael Relph & Basil Dearden, based on a story by Nicholas Monsarrat. Directed by Basil Dearden.

   This is an offbeat British noir with a touch of the supernatural, though underplayed and understated, that is unmistakable. George Hoskins (Richard Attenborough) and Bill Randall (George Baker Wexford, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service himself and as George Lazenby’s voice when he is posing as a member of the Royal College of Arms) and Birdie Dick (Bill Owen Compo of The Last of the Summer Wine) serve together on a Royal Navy Motor Gun Boat (a P.T. Boat in American jargon) raiding the French coast and attacking German installations at night and rescuing downed pilots in the Channel.

   When Bill’s wife (Virginia McKenna) is killed in the cottage where they live in a bombing raid his rather jolly swashbuckling war comes to and end. With the war at an end Bill finds himself at sixes and sevens until he runs into George who has a plan to buy their former boat and indulge in a bit of harmless smuggling.

   Smuggling and the British efforts to avoid excise taxes is a common theme in British history and literature from du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Graham Greene’s The Man Within, and J. Meade Falkner’s Moonfleet to more comic takes like Geoffrey Household’s “Brandy for the Parson,” and Compton Mackenzie’s Whiskey Galore, and the theme only grew more common with the wartime shortages and black-market during and after the war where shortages lasted well into the prosperous Fifties.

   George and Bill, with Birdie insisting on coming along, begin rather harmlessly and revive some of the spirit of their wartime adventures. Fooling Customs Inspector Sam Brewster (Bernard Lee, M from the James Bond films) and foiling pirates led by smooth baddie Major Fordyce (Roland Culver) are a throwback to the best days of the war when they struck quickly and silently along the French coast.

   Bill can almost forget the pain of what he lost, almost pretend that he has really escaped from the emptiness of his life.

   But George is greedy and seeks out Major Fordyce who can guarantee them higher pay and bigger risks. Attenborough was always equally adept at playing meek innocents and rather shady characters.

   Those risks come in the form of smuggling a man out of England, a dangerous mission attempted in a heavy fog and with a new element, sudden trouble with their ship, something that first becomes apparent to Birdie when he notes the ship doesn’t like what they are doing.

   And little wonder, because the man that Fordyce has them smuggling is a wanted child murderer.

   They barely get away and their passenger ends up overboard, but their luck has run out. Bill is ready to chuck it all and turn himself in when Fordyce and George, hoping to get away, murder Sam Brewster who is onto them and kidnap he and Birdie to get them safely to Portugal.

   But no one has counted on the weather or the whims of their once gallant ship.

   That faint, and it is very faint, hint that the ship is somehow aware of what it is being used for and ashamed is the main oddity in the story which otherwise would be a tough but standard British noir crime outing of the period with a better than average cast.

   Based on a story later expanded by Nicholas Monsarrat (The Cruel Sea, The Nylon Pirates, White Rajah) who was a bestselling novelist who wrote primarily of the sea and whose feel for that life was notable, the supernatural aspect is never overplayed. It works at the fringes and builds only at the big climax.

   The Ship That Died of Shame isn’t seen all that often, but it is worth catching. Currently it, and quite a few excellent films from the Thirties through the Sixties are available on Classic Reels a low price streaming service that adds one or two new films a day.

   In any case this is worth seeing.