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Coast Guard History

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The Coast Guard In Film

Sea Spoilers Movie Poster

Whether with or without the cooperation of the Coast Guard, the nation’s oldest sea-going service has been well-documented in Hollywood film throughout the years.  In feature films, serials, short subjects or cartoons the Coast Guard often has been portrayed as star material or as background.  With the advent of television the Coast Guard has starred in, co-starred in or been part of the cast, either in made-for-TV films or episodic TV shows.  The Coast Guard has participated in and provided background for music videos, children’s videos, documentaries, and educational programs.  Listed below for your entertainment are various titles of films where the Coast Guard was the principle protagonist along with some short subjects and documentaries.  The list is ever-growing and ever-changing, so from time to time this site will be updated.   Television appearances have not been included in this initial list.

Special thanks to Commander Ralph Judd, USCG (ret) who did the original research, published a book on the subject and provided the impetus for this project.  Lieutenant Sanford R. Sears, USCGR, researched and wrote the entries for this section of the website.

FEATURE FILMS:

The Yellow Traffic, 1914
A Blache Features, Inc.  A silent film starring Albert Lang as Tom Northrup, a Coast Guard officer.  Faye Cusick stars as Alice Rawley, stars as the daughter of a merchant shipmaster.  Captain Rawley is hijacked and forced to smuggle Chinese immigrants.  The Coast Guard and Tom Northrup retake the ship and Northrup and Alice Rawley live happily ever after.  This film is still available on video.

Patria, 1917

Activities on the Atlantic Coast, 1918

Outlaws of the Sea, 1923

Code of the Sea, 1924

Rugged Water, 1925
A Paramount Picture.  This drama about the U.S. Life-Saving Service is set at the "Setuckit" Life-Saving Station.  It stars Wallace Beery as Benoni Barlett. (Beery a flying enthusiast went on to fly and drill with the Naval Reserve.)  Barlett is a member of a neighboring life-saving station.  During a rescue all crew members but he are drowned while attempting a rescue.  He is named keeper of the station and is considered a hero by the townspeople.  What the public doesn’t know is that Barlett is a religious fanatic, suffering from guilt from his terrible experience, and is also somewhat of a coward.  Calvin Homer (Warner Baxter) is a member of the Setuckit Station and had originally been in line for promotion to keeper, until Barlett was promoted over him.  Homer has his own problems, he’s tricked into engagement with school teacher Myra Fuller (Phylis Haver) and he falls in love with Bartlett’s daughter Norma (Lois Wilson).  Calvin Homer, good man that he is, serves Bartlett well and does everything to cover up his weaknesses.  He rescues Norma in a terrible storm, ends up kissing her and realizes he must end his relationship with Myra.  In another storm, Bartlett’s cowardice gets the best of him and refuses to go out.  Calvin takes over command, rescues the sailors, ends his relationship with Myra, is given command of the station and is now engaged to Norma.  n a final storm Barlett is killed during the rescue and dies a hero’s death.

The Carnival Girl, 1926

Perils of the Coast Guard, 1926

Twelve Miles Out, 1927
A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture starring John Gilbert as rum runner Jerry Fay.  His boat is driven ashore in a chase with a Coast Guard Cutter.  He then kidnaps Jane played by Joan Crawford in order to help elude the Coast Guard.  He vows to go straight after falling in love with Jane.  But his ship is later boarded by a rival gang disguised as the Coast Guard.  Jerry is killed in the ensuing gun battle and Joan Crawford is left alone.

The Royal American, 1927
A Rayart-State Rights film, The Royal American starred Reed Howes as Jack Beaton, a young Coast Guard officer.  Nita Martane stars as Gail Morton his girlfriend.  Ship’s master Captain Burke (J.P. McGowen) assaults Gail.  Jack defends her but Burke has his revenge when he shanghais Jack on his ship loaded with contraband arms and ammunition for rebels in South America.  Jack Beaton gains control of the ship, dispatches Captain Burke and turns the ship over to his commanding officer.

Heads Up, 1930

The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble, 1933

Men On Call, 1933

Dangerous Waters, 1936

Border Flight Movie PosterBorder Flight , 1936
A Paramount Picture, this one takes place at the United States Coast Guard Air Base in San Diego, California.  Starring John Howard as LT Dan Conlon, Grant Withers as LT Pat Tornell and Robert Cummings as LT Bob Dixon. Conlon (Howard) and Tornell (Withers) are rivals for Anne Blaine (Frances Farmer).  Newly arrived Dixon (Cummings) is shot down by smugglers.  At this point the Coast Guard wins permission to arm its planes with machineguns.  Latter in the movie Pat Tornell is killed in a heroic rescue mission and Dan and Anne find themselves together again without him between them.  This movie is still available on video format.  Click here for a publicity photograph.

Sea Spoilers Movie PosterThe Sea Spoilers , 1936
Possibly the first John Wayne Universal Film.  Wayne stars as Warrant Officer Bob Randall temporarily in command of a Coast Guard patrol boat plying the waters of Alaska in such of smugglers and seal poachers.  Commander Mays played by George Irving is base commander.  His son, LTJG Mays, played by William Bakewell and Coast Guard Academy graduate, is given command of the Patrol Boat over WO1 Randall (Wayne).  Typical friction develops between the experienced warrant officer and the Academy graduate LTJG.  The younger Mays also has a fear of the sea and is not an effective CO.  Finally he persuades his father to transfer him back to the Coast Guard air arm.  Wayne is again CO of the patrol boat and goes full force against a gang of seal poachers that have hijacked a yacht, killed the owner and kidnapped young LTJG Mays’ girlfriend.  This film is still available in video format.  Good action film and fairly good portrayal of pre-WWII Coast Guard.

Motor Madness, 1937

Sea Devils Movie PosterSea Devils , 1937
An RKO picture; Preston Foster and Victor McLaglen star in this film along with Ida Lupino and Donald Woods.   McLaglen, fresh from his Oscar for "The Informer," plays CPO William "Medals" Malone, father of Doris Malone, played by actress Ida Lupino.  Mike O'Shea (Preston Foster), a young petty officer, and Steve Webb (Donald Woods, another petty officer) battle between themselves for the attention of Malone.  CPO Malone favors Webb, but his daughter has eyes for O'Shea.  Good Coast Guard action between the brawling.  Very good special effects involving a yacht being pounded to pieces on a reef and the subsequent Coast Guard rescue.  Also of interest is the Coast Guard mission to explode and destroy icebergs. This film is still available in video format.

Sea Racketeers , 1937

Coast Guard, 1939

SOS Coast Guard Movie PosterSOS Coast Guard , 1942
A Republic serial from 1937 with 12 chapters.  Re-released in 1942 as a feature film of 69 minutes.  Exciting as both a serial or feature, the film stars Ralph Byrd as LT Terry Kent.  Byrd goes on to a career as Dick Tracy in Republic Films. In an unlimited supply of uniforms, he goes through each and every installment either dirtied, soaked, or blown up and yet each and every time a fresh uniform is available and he is ready to conform to Coast Guard regulations.  Bela Lugosi as the critically acclaimed evil scientist Boroff, has invented a gas that disintegrates almost everything.  Republic, deciding to cash on Coast Guard recognition, released the film again in 1942 as a feature.  Still available as serial in video format.

Dog of the Seven Seas, 1946
A Universal variety view.  Coast Guard dog Sinbad tells his story of how he entered the Coast Guard in 1937 as mascot on the cutter Campbell.  Sinbad is shown participating at battle stations and other shipboard life.  The film also focuses on his tour of Okinawa and Japan.  He returns to New York City and gets a "well done" from Admiral Smith.

Tars and Spars , 1946
Based upon the stage show Tars and Spars.  Produced in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard.  Stars Alfred Drake of Broadway fame, as S 1/c Howard Young, Janet Blair as SPAR Christine Bradley and comedian Sid Caesar who was already on active duty as Seaman Chuck Enders.  Chief Petty Officer Victor Mature was in the original stage version.  Tars and Spars launched the career of Caesar as a comedian.  Typical boy meets girl song and dance fare.

The Woman on the Beach, 1947
A RKO Picture starring Robert Ryan, Joan Bennet, Charles Bickford and Walter Sande.  Robert Ryan plays a Coast Guard Officer on medical leave suffering from trauma from a wartime torpedoing.  Joan Bennet plays the wife of an artist (Charles Bickford) who was blinded in a drunken brawl.  Ryan sets out to prove that Bickford is not blind in order to justify his relationship with Bennet, but is unable to prove that the brooding and jealous Bickford is really blind.  He bows out of the relationship leaving Bennet with Bickford.

The Fighting Coast Guard, 1951

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953
Taglines for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms included: "Prehistoric sea-giant rages against city!"  "They couldn’t believe their eyes! They couldn’t escape the terror! And neither will you!"  "Cast of thousands! Over a year in the making!"  "The seas master beast of the ages-raging up from the bottom of time."  A Warner Brothers picture about a prehistoric monster frozen in time that is thawed out by an atomic blast. The monster starts to destroy shipping along the northeast sea corridor and the Coast Guard is assigned to do battle with the monster ending up in New York City where the Captain of the Port takes charge.  The beast is finally dispatched after the Army fires a radioactive isotope into it.  (The Coast Guard has no atomic specialists so the Army has to step in.)  This one starred Donald Woods as Captain Phil Jackson, USCG and Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter.  Written by Ray Bradbury.

Sea of Lost Ships, 1953
A Republic picture starring John Derek, Wanda Hendrix, Walter Brennan, Richard Jaeckel, Tom Tully, Barton MacLane, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Ben Cooper, Darryl Hickman, Roy Roberts, Tom Powers, Richard Hale, James Brown, Douglas Kennedy, Steve Brodie, John Hudson.  The plot revolves around the son (John Derek) of a deceased Coast Guard hero is raised by a Coast Guard non-commissioned officer who also has a son the same age.  When they get older both are accepted into the Coast Guard Academy, but the hero's son winds up being thrown out, bringing disgrace to his adopted family.  He then enlists in the Coast Guard and redeems himself during a dangerous rescue.  The technical advisor was LCDR Robert C. Cannom, USCGR.

Onionhead , 1958
Stars Andy Griffith who, as a country boy, joins the Coast Guard during World War II and is assigned to a buoy tender as a cook.  The movie was filmed at Coast Guard Base Alameda and Yerba Buena Island.

Love in a Goldfish Bowl, 1961

Around the World Under the Sea, 1965

Assault on a Queen, 1966
A Paramount picture.  Frank Sinatra plays an ex-submariner that is down on his luck.  He participates in a scheme to raise an old U-boat and disguise it as an experimental Royal Navy submarine--and use it to stop the RMS Queen Mary at sea and rob her.  The plan is thwarted when the USCGC Androscoggin shows up and rams and sinks the submarine -- click here for a still picture from the film.  Note the early variation of the Coast Guard's "racing stripe".

The Boatniks , 1970
Robert Morse stars as Ensign Thomas Garland.  A very young Stephanie Powers provides the love interest.  Also on hand are Don Ameche as Commander Taylor, Phil Silvers, Norman Fell, Wally Cox and Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster from "The Munsters").  Inept Morse is the son of a an outstanding World War II Coast Guard Officer known as "Torpedo Tommy".  Assigned to patrol Newport Beach, California, he constantly finds himself in mess after mess, only his dumb luck saves the day and his career.  Silvers and Fell are bungling jewel thieves.  A Walt Disney Picture, the Coast Guard declined script approval.  The movie is still available on video format.

Day of the Dolphin, 1973

Lucky Lady , 1975
Disappointing and ill contrived 1970s comedy about rumrunners Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli who go up against the Coast Guard and rival John Hillerman.  Hackman and Reynolds don Coast Guard uniforms in order to outwit the local Coast Guard Command and Hillerman.  Fairly good portrayal of pre-WWII Coast Guard and the Coast Guard’s perseverance to catch rumrunners.  Also fairly good portrayal of Rum Row mother ships and Coast Guard seventy-five foot patrol boats.

The Defection of Simas Kudirka, 1978

The Last Flight of Noah's Ark, 1980

The Island , 1981
Movie based on the best selling novel by Peter Benchley.  Pirate Chief David Warner leads a band of modern of pirates who raid yachts and sail boats of Caribbean vacationers.  Michael Caine plays a reporter who with his son investigates the reasons behind the disappearing boats.  Through his investigation he is unwillingly inducted into the pirate clan.  A Coast Guard "210" is sent to investigate and is boarded and overrun by the pirates.  USCGC Dauntless and Diligence provided platform and background shots.

The Lightship, 1985

Top Gun, 1986

Overboard, 1987

License to Kill, 1989

The Hunt for Red October, 1990

Captain Ron, 1992

Clear and Present Danger, 1993

The Beast, 1996

Daylight, 1996

White Squall , 1996
Based upon the true story about 13 prep school students who sign aboard the sailing ship Albatross, a brigantine, it is set in the 1960’s.  The movie stars Jeff Bridges as Christopher Shelden, captain, sailor, sailor, schoolmaster and stern disciplinarian.  The "White Squall" is a sudden storm that comes unaccompanied by clouds, and so it does, the Albatross sinks, and four students and two crewman die.  The Coast Guard conducts a hearing as to the expertise and conduct of Captain Shelden (Bridges).  Of note, as the film is set in the 1960’s, CG officers are dressed in Service Dress Khaki.  Unfortunately a supply of black shoulder boards and hat bands for combo hats were unavailable.  So instead, the public sees 60’s style uniforms with modern blue shoulder boards and hat bands.

Lethal Weapon 4, 1998

Double Jeopardy, 1999

The Perfect Storm, 2000

Bad Boys II, 2003

Yours, Mine & Ours, 2005

The Guardian, 2006

SERIALS:

Casey of the Coast Guard Serial PosterCasey of the Coast Guard, 1925
Ten Part Serial produced by Pathe, starring George O’Harra and Helen Ferguson.  George Casey (George O’Harra) is a Coast Guard officer stationed on Long Island Sound.  He is both hated and feared by a band of smugglers headed by "Diamond Kate".  The serial unfolds with the smuggler gang choosing their strike against Casey, the night of the Cadet Coast Guard Ball.  George’s brother Frank answers the call that night and is killed in action against the smugglers.  George Casey vows revenge for the death of his brother. Great action serial with much background of correct period uniforms, cadets in uniform and many shots of cutters and seaplanes.

SOS Coast Guard Serial PosterSOS Coast Guard , 1937, 1942
A Republic serial from 1937 with 12 chapters.  Re-released in 1942 as a feature film of 69 minutes.  Exciting as both a serial or feature, the film stars Ralph Byrd as LT Terry Kent.  Byrd goes on to a career as Dick Tracy in Republic Films. In an unlimited supply of uniforms, he goes through each and every installment either dirtied, soaked, or blown up and yet each and every time a fresh uniform is available and he is ready to conform to Coast Guard regulations.  Bela Lugosi as the critically acclaimed evil scientist Boroff, has invented a gas that disintegrates almost everything.  Republic, deciding to cash on Coast Guard recognition, released the film again in 1942 as a feature.  Still available as serial in video format.

Don Winslow Movie PosterDon Winslow of the Coast Guard , 1943
CDR Don Winslow, USN distinguishes himself at Pearl Harbor.  He discovers his old archenemy the Scorpion is now aiding the Japanese.  Winslow played by Don Terry and his associate LT "Red" Pennington, played by Walter Sande are assigned to the Coast Guard to battle the Scorpion.  Typical "cliff hanger" serial, this one done by Universal.  The Scorpion with obvious German accent now associates himself with Japanese saboteurs who obligingly mark their submarines with a "U".  Either it was to make the Scorpion feel at home for his "Fatherland" or to be able to use stock footage of U-boats.  This film is still available in video format.

SHORT SUBJECTS:

United States Coast Guard, 1936

G-Men of the Sea, 1938

Cruising With the Coast Guard, 1940

Guardians of the Sea

A Ship is Born, 1942
A documentary short promoting recruiting in the U.S. Coast Guard.  Produced by the Coast Guard and distributed by the War Activities Committee.

Sailors All Movie PosterSailors All , 1943
Part of a 13 Chapter RKO Production "This Is America".  The "Sailors All" Chapter showed the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and the Temporary Reserve in action.  Of particular note was the emphasis on the wartime activities of volunteer citizens who because they were over age or worked war essential jobs, were unable to serve on active duty.  Yet they still gave of their time to serve the United States Coast Guard.  This movie is still available in video format.

Sails Aloft, 1943

Screen Snapshots, 1943
A Columbia Production.  This 10 minute short shows actors Cesar Romero, Richard Quine, and Gig Young as they enter the Coast Guard.

Battle Stations, 1944
Narrators James Cagney and Ginger Rodgers outline the duties of a SPAR.  This documentary short film with a running time of 10 minutes showed the replacement of Coast Guardsman on home shore duty by SPARS during World War II.  This movie is still available in video format.

Beachead to Berlin, 1944
A Warner Brothers production in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard.  A Technicolor Special.  Narrated by Charles Linton Tedford.  A short film in tribute to U.S. Navy chaplains assigned to the Coast Guard.  The film shows chaplains providing comfort to the Coast Guardsmen assigned to the Normandy Invasion.  The New York Times commented about the film, "the footage photographed by the Coast Guard combat cameramen before and during the coastal invasion phase gives a most graphic comprehension of the assault on the beaches by seaborne troops".

Dogs for Show, 1944
A Universal production short. Featured in this film is handler Chief Boatswain’s Mate Walter Foster, USCG and his charge Warlord of Mazelaine, a champion boxer.  The basis of this movie is the preparation of this champion dog for the Madison Square Garden National Dog Show.

Rudy Vallee and the United States Coast Guard Band , 1944
Coast Guardsman Rudy Vallee directs the 11th District Coast Guard Band in this 10 minute short. Lieutenant Vallee and the Coast Guard Band play "Semper Paratus", "Wings of Gold", "Ship Ahoy", "Anchors Aweigh", the "Marines’ Hymn and the song of the Coast Guard Temporary Reserve, "The Silver Shield".  While the band is playing, scenes of the Coast Guard, Navy and Marines in action are shown on the silver screen.  This movie is available on video format.

Seeing Hollywood, 1944
A Columbia production, part of Screen Snapshots.  A short film narrated by Alan Mowbray featuring the closing program from "Tars and Spars."  Featured in the film were CPO Victor Mature, PO Sid Caesar, and PO Gower Champion.

Task Force, 1944
A Warner Brothers production in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard.  A Technicolor special.  Narrated by Jackson Beck, this short film was shot in color, instead of the typical black and white film used for shorts.  The film focuses around Coast Guard "Task Force" duty.  Besides operational glimpses, the viewer is treated to a snapshot of the life of a Coast Guardsman on and off duty.

Canine Patrol , 1945
A Walt Disney film that is still available in video format.  Pluto is assigned to the Coast Guard as a guard dog.  The film deals with Pluto’s trials and tribulations to keep a newborn turtle from trespassing into the restricted zone on the Beach that Pluto is guarding.  After Pluto falls prey to a patch of quick sand, he needs to rely on help from his former foe.

The Story of a Dog, 1945
A Warner Brothers production.  This 10 minute short narrated by Knox Manning, shows the training of dogs as members of the Coast Guard War Dog Unit at Curtis Bay, Maryland.  The film shows dogs as they go through training, including wall scaling, crawling under barbed wire and staying cool and calm under fire.  The film culminates with the graduation of handlers and dogs at the War Dog Training Center.

Dog of the Seven Seas, 1946
A Universal variety view.  Coast Guard dog Sinbad tells his story of how he entered the Coast Guard in 1937 as mascot on the cutter Campbell.  Sinbad is shown participating at battle stations and other shipboard life.  The film also focuses on his tour of Okinawa and Japan.  He returns to New York City and gets a "well done" from Admiral Smith.

Future Skippers, 1950

Cruise of the Eagle, 1958

Sea Devils Movie Poster


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Last Modified 11/17/2014