This age of this early silent feature is apparent from its company credits. It was produced by the Whaling Film Corporation (probably not a major studio even in those days), and was distributed by Wholesome Film Services. It was filmed on location at New Bedford, Massachussets.
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Not surprisingly, the storyline involves whaling. Set in mid-19th century New Bedford, conservative Quaker Morgan (William Walcott) forbids his daughter Patience (Marguerite Courtot) to marry Dexter (Raymond McKee), because Dexter is a miller and has never harpooned a whale. Meanwhile, villainous Finner (Pat Hartigan) schemes to pirate Morgan's whaling ship, and for good measure marry off his creepy bookkeeping partner Siggs (J. Thornton Baston) to Patience.
At this point, the experienced viewer wonders how the inevitable plot convolutions will work to foil the plans of Finner and Siggs, and transform Dexter into an accomplished whaler so that he can wed Patience, thereby tying all the loose ends into a happy ending. This is done in predictable fashion, but there are some interesting scenes as a whale is hunted and subsequently slaughtered.
The maritime industry of New Bedford had already seen its best days by 1922, and this film captures the tail end of the whaling era. The film salutes the cameramen (A. G. Penrod and Paul H. Allen) in the opening credits "who, in small boats, stood by their cameras at the risk of their lives to photograph the fighting whales".
"Down to the Sea in Ships" also marks the inauspicious film debut of a seventeen-year-old Clara Bow. She would eventually become one of the leading actresses of the 1920s. She plays the 'mischievous' younger daughter of Morgan, and is a stowaway on the whaling ship. (57/100)