The Long Voyage Home

The Long Voyage Home

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Dudley Nichols
Based on The Moon of the Caribees
In The Zone
Bound East for Cardiff
The Long Voyage Home
by Eugene O'Neill
Music by Richard Hageman
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Edited by Sherman Todd
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 8, 1940 (1940-10-08)

(New York City)[1][2]

Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $682,495[3]
Box office $580,129[3]

The Long Voyage Home is a 1940 American drama film directed by John Ford. It features John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Lawson, John Qualen, Mildred Natwick, and Ward Bond, among others.

The film was adapted by Dudley Nichols from the plays The Moon of the Caribbees, In the Zone, Bound East for Cardiff, and The Long Voyage Home by Eugene O'Neill. The original plays by Eugene O'Neill were written around the time of World War I and were among his earliest plays. Ford set the story for the motion picture, however, during the early days of World War II.[4]

While not one of Ford's best-known works, The Long Voyage Home continues to be well received. Film critics and scholars have noted Gregg Toland's distinctive cinematography, which serves as a precursor of the film noir aesthetic[5] and would hint at his work for Orson Welles' landmark film Citizen Kane (1941).


The film tells the story of the crew aboard a British tramp steamer named the SS Glencairn on the long voyage home from the West Indies to Baltimore and then to England. The crew is a motley, fun-loving, hard-drinking lot. Among them is their consensus leader, a middle-aged Irishman named Driscoll ("Drisk") (Thomas Mitchell), a young Swedish ex-farmer Ole Olsen (John Wayne), a spiteful steward nicknamed Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald), a brooding Lord Jim-like Englishman Smitty (Ian Hunter), and a burly, thoroughly dependable bruiser Davis (Joseph Sawyer), among others. The film opens on a sultry night in a port in the West Indies where the crew have been confined to their ship by order of the captain, yet they yearn as ever for an opportunity to drink and have fun with the ladies. Drisk has arranged to import a boat-load of local ladies, who along with baskets of fruit have agreed to smuggle bottles of rum on board where, with the acquiescence of the captain, the crew carouse until a minor drunken brawl breaks out and the ladies are ordered off the ship and denied any of their promised compensation. The next day the ship sails to pick up its cargo for its return trip to England. When the crew discovers that the cargo is high explosives, they at first rebel and grumble among themselves that they won't crew the ship if it is carrying such a cargo. But they are easily cowed into submission by the captain and the ship sails, crossing the Atlantic and passing through what they all know is the war zone and potential disaster.

After the ship leaves Baltimore with its load of dynamite, the rough seas they encounter become nerve-racking to the crew. When the anchor breaks loose, Yank (Ward Bond) is injured in the effort to secure it. With no doctor on board, nothing can be done for his injury, and he dies.

They're also concerned that Smitty might be a German spy because he's so aloof and secretive. After they assault Smitty and restrain and gag him, they force him to give up the key to a small metal box they have found in his bunk which they at first think is a bomb. Opening the box against Smitty's vigorous protests, they discover a packet of letters. When Drisk reads a few, it becomes clear that they are letters from Smitty's wife revealing the fact that Smitty has been an alcoholic, disgraced and perhaps dishonorably discharged from his naval service with the British navy, and that he is now too ashamed to show himself before his family even though his wife urges him to come home. In the war zone as they near port, a German plane attacks the ship, killing Smitty in a burst of machine gun fire. Reaching England without further incident, the rest of the crew members decide not to sign on for another voyage on the Glencairn and go ashore, determined to help Ole return to his family in Sweden, whom he has not seen in ten years.

In spite of their determination to help the simple, gullible Ole get on his ship for Stockholm, the crew is incapable of passing up the opportunity for a good time drinking and dancing in a seedy bar to which they have been lured by an agent for ships in port looking for crew members. He has his eye on Ole because he is the biggest and strongest of the lot. He drugs Ole's drink, and calls his confederates in to shanghai Ole aboard another ship, the Amindra. Driscoll and the rest of the crew, even though drunk and almost too late, rescue Ole from the Amindra, but Driscoll is clubbed and left on board as the crew makes its escape with Ole. The next morning, the crew straggles back somewhat dejectedly and resignedly to the Glencairn to sign on for another voyage. We learn through a newspaper headline that the Amindra has been sunk in the Channel by German torpedoes, killing all on board.



Independent film producer Walter Wanger made film-making history during the production of this film. He hired nine prominent American artists, all painters, to document the dramatic scenes during the film's production. Mr. Wanger offered a commission of over $50,000 to encourage the artists to participate, and these funds were secured with the help of Reeves Lowenthal, Director of the Associated American Artists. No other undertaking of this magnitude and purpose had been done before in Hollywood film making. The artists insisted on three things to ensure a quality effort: freedom of choice on subject matter, studios on the production lot, and a projection room for viewing rushes. The artists who participated were Thomas Benton, Grant Wood, George Biddle, James Chapin, Ernest Fiene, Robert Philipp, Luis Quintanilla, Raphael Soyer and Georges Schreiber. Eleven original paintings emerged from this inaugural effort. These toured the country in the museum circuit of the day beginning with a display in the Associated American Artists Galleries on Fifth Avenue, New York.[6]

It is also worth noting that Gregg Toland was the cinematographer on this film. Film buffs will know he was also the cinematographer on Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and is justly famous for his striking use of the "deep-focus" technique, a technique he abundantly displays here as well as in Welles's film.


The film did poorly in its theatrical release, losing $224,336.[3] Some critics suggested that the film failed to appeal to the general public because it was too dark and lacked a romance.[7]

It was released on DVD in 2006 by Warner Bros. Home Video but is now out-of-print. The Criterion Collection now has the home video rights to release it. It has not yet been released on DVD or Blu Ray by The Criterion Collection.

It is available as part of a John Ford box set, Region 2.


Critic Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, liked the screenplay, the message of the film, and John Ford's direction, and wrote, "John Ford has truly fashioned a modern Odyssey—a stark and tough-fibered motion picture which tells with lean economy the never-ending story of man's wanderings over the waters of the world in search of peace for his is harsh and relentless and only briefly compassionate in its revelation of man's pathetic shortcomings. But it is one of the most honest pictures ever placed upon the screen; it gives a penetrating glimpse into the hearts of little men and, because it shows that out of human weakness there proceeds some nobility, it is far more gratifying than the fanciest hero-worshiping fare."[8]

The staff at Variety magazine wrote, "Combining dramatic content of four Eugene O'Neill one-act plays, John Ford pilots adventures of a tramp steamer from the West Indies to an American port, and then across the Atlantic with cargo of high explosives. Picture is typically Fordian, his direction accentuating characterizations and adventures of the voyage."[9] Harrison's Reports called it "A powerful picture, directed with skill and acted with artistry."[10] Film Daily called it "a powerful, realistic vehicle, human and dramatic from main title to finis."[11] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote a rave review, calling it "one of the magnificent films of film history. Never has the sea, its infinite pictorial possibilities, been so comprehended upon the screen and its beauty and its threat so elonquently conveyed."[12]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 100% percent approval from critics, based on nine reviews.[13]





  1. Doss, Erika (1991). Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism. University of Chicago Press. p. 243. ISBN 9780226159430.
  2. "The Broadway Parade". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 2 October 7, 1940.
  3. 1 2 3 Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p440
  4. Steeman, Albert. Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers, "Gregg Toland page," Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2007. Last accessed: January 18, 2008.
  5. Doss, p. 250
  6. "The Long Voyage Home". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  7. Doss, p. 252
  8. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "The Long Voyage Home, Magnificent Drama of the Sea," October 9, 1940. Last accessed: January 18, 2008
  9. Variety. Film review, October 9, 1940. Last accessed: January 18, 2008.
  10. "'The Long Voyage Home' with John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Ian Hunter". Harrison's Reports: 167. October 19, 1940.
  11. "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 8 October 9, 1940.
  12. Mosher, John (October 19, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 97.
  13. The Long Voyage Home at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: April 8, 2015.
  14. "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-18.
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