Ship Without a Harbour

Original Title: Das Schiff ohne Hafen. (Das Gespensterschiff.) Adventure 1932; 95 min.; Director: Harry Piel; Cast: Harry Piel, Ingrid Lindström, Trude Berliner, Hans Lorenz, Eugen Rex, Charly Berger, Philipp Manning, Friedrich Kayßler, Paul Rehkopf, Bruno Ziener, Erwin Fichtner, Maria Forescu; Ariel-Tobis-Klangfilm.

The coastal police are after a three-master ship. They know that it aims to retrieve the gold bars from a sunken ship, but they don’t know its exact location or the hiding place of the thief’s vessel. A coastal police officer, who is actually on vacation and honeymoon, boards the ship due to the kidnapping of a colleague. He then delivers the ship to the police flotilla, alerted by a carrier pigeon.

A mysterious ship glides along the coast, a harborless and nameless ghost ship. It emerges from a fog bank, briefly illuminated by the spotlight of a patrolling police boat, only to vanish without any response to calls. The coastal police and local fishermen can only identify it as a large three-masted schooner. Night after night, it appears and disappears as enigmatically as it arrived… until one fateful night when a fishing boat manages to approach the mysterious vessel. However, a shot from the sailing ship kills the inquisitive police officer, leaving the coastal police leadership desperate, the fishermen uneasy, and the investigations futile. Meanwhile, Klaus Hansen, the most skilled officer on the force, is on vacation and honeymooning with operetta star Kitty Korff. Commissioner Burghardt finds himself on edge, and the director of the Metropol Theater grows anxious, missing his star, Kitty Korff, during the rehearsals for their upcoming premiere.

Although Klaus Hansen and his young wife have long returned from their honeymoon, intending to spend undisturbed days at home, Klaus can’t ignore the news of his colleague’s death, despite Kitty’s anxious pleas. He promptly contacts Commissioner Burghardt and learns that the ghost ship isn’t the only concern. The “Sörberg,” carrying millions of marks in gold, sank, and its wreckage remains undiscovered. The government, responsible for the gold transport, puts pressure on the coastal police to locate the accident site near the coast, under the cover of darkness.

With this, Klaus Hansen commences his work, secretly embarking on the investigation despite his promise to his worried wife. One night, a fake phone call from his colleague Martin lures him into a trap. Expecting to meet Martin on a barge, Klaus instead finds himself face to face with a young helmsman wielding a revolver. The helmsman reveals that Martin’s investigations have necessitated his arrest and that both Martin and Hansen will reunite on the ghost ship. Using a clever ploy, Hansen turns the tables and apprehends the helmsman, only to discover that an old friend, Lilly, entangled with dubious characters, is the apparent criminal’s accomplice. Yet, Hansen, a gentleman, doesn’t forget past friendships and allows Lilly to escape while the suspicious helmsman is taken into custody by the arriving police.

During the interrogation, Hansen reluctantly extracts valuable information from the prisoner. The helmsman, Jochen, is the lone survivor of the sunken “Sörberg” and intends to recover the treasure from the wrecked “Aörberg” using the ghost ship. Now armed with a plan, Hansen ensures Jochen’s escape, tailing him in pursuit. This leads him to the secret ship and ultimately to the “Sörberg” and its hidden treasure. Executing the plan meticulously, Hansen successfully keeps Lilly unaware that she unwittingly discloses the secret of the harborless ship.

Hansen follows Jochen on his motorcycle, covertly boarding the motorboat that transports Jochen to the ghost ship. Here, Hansen faces his most formidable challenge. He rescues his colleague Martin, and on the night when divers descend from the ship to retrieve the treasure from the seabed, he signals the police speedboats using rocket signals. However, as he perches on the top yardarm of the sailing ship, communicating with the police boats, he is discovered. Jochen joins him on the yardarm, leading to a deadly confrontation high above the sea between the unarmed Hansen and Jochen. Eventually, Hansen manages to wrestle the knife away from Jochen’s desperate grasp. However, in doing so, he loses his own grip, and they both plunge into the sea, locked in a struggle. As they battle amidst the waves, Jochen’s strength wanes… At the last moment, the police boats arrive, rescuing them both and engaging in a fierce struggle to apprehend the ship’s crew. The mystery of the harborless ship is finally solved, and the treasure is recovered.

Although deeply affected, Hansen experiences a profound sense of triumph as he hurries home with his friend Martin to enjoy morning coffee with his young wife. Yet, new surprises await them!…

j-n.’s review in Film Kurier No. 302 (December 23, 1932)
Harry Piel has titled his latest film “Erlebnisse eines Seepolizisten” (Experiences of a Sea Policeman), with the subtitle “Das Gespensterschiff.”

Harry Piel continues his remarkable success in creating thrilling adventure films that appeal even to those who previously showed no interest in the genre.

He has expanded the genre both in terms of its material and elevated its performance to the highest level.

Once rightfully dismissed, this genre had become stagnant due to its clichéd production. The former numerous and highly popular representatives of this genre have long fallen out of favor. However, Harry Piel’s popularity has increased among the audience, and rightfully so!

In his latest film, the atmosphere is derived from the wild and invigorating sea air, the forest of masts, cranes, and iron structures of a harbor, as well as the locations and people who love danger and are driven by an unquenchable thirst for adventure.

“The Ghost Ship” is a mighty three-masted schooner owned by a gang of daring men attempting to recover gold bars from a sunken ship. It eludes the harbor police, who themselves are in hot water, until Klaus Hansen (played by Harry Piel), who is actually on vacation and honeymoon, intervenes.

He does so with superiority, not as a muscular man, but as someone whose profession requires preparedness for any situation, with a mind as agile as his well-trained, flexible body.

The sea and the harbor provide an authentic atmosphere for the plot, resonating with the vibration of a modern ballad. Ewald Daub captures wonderful, romantic, picturesque, and ghostly impressions with his camera. He extracts them entirely from the actual situations, avoiding deliberate emphasis on dark and eerie alleys and corners, saying, “Look how these corners taste of criminals!”

Just as the photography remains undistorted, Piel’s performance requires minimal effort, and his language (his voice perfectly blending with the microphone) is simple.

As a director, he values pace and simplicity, allowing the suspense to build from scene to scene.

Werner Scheff’s script does not always align with the film’s sharp direction. The role of the impostor Lilly Steffens (played with insecurity by Trude Berliner), burdened with past connections to the police officer portrayed by Piel, feels unnecessary. The scene of the two fighting women at the end is also superfluous, descending into unintentional comedy after a series of solid, strong performances by the weathered sailors.

The film features several splendid male figures: Friedrich Kayßler, Philipp Manning, Eugen Rex, and Piel’s partner Hans Lorenz.

Fritz Wenneis’s music is skillfully used, evocative, much like the overall sound design (including police whistles and sirens) coordinated by Erich Lange. W. A. Hermann authentically captures the set designs in the style of the location.

And the audience? They remained captivated, often expressing shock and admiration with loud exclamations, and enthusiastically applauding.