Morituri (1965 film)

Morituri (also known as The Saboteur: Code Name Morituri) is a 1965 film about the Allied sabotage during World War II of a German merchant ship carrying rubber, a critical product during the war. The film stars Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner, Martin Benrath, Janet Margolin, Trevor Howard and Wally Cox. It was directed by Bernhard Wicki. The filming occurred almost exclusively on an old German freighter.

Morituri (The Saboteur)
original movie poster
Directed byBernhard Wicki
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Screenplay byDaniel Taradash
Based onMorituri
1958 novel
by Werner Jörg Lüddecke (in German)
StarringMarlon Brando
Yul Brynner
Janet Margolin
Trevor Howard
Wally Cox
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyConrad L. Hall
Edited byJoseph Silver
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox
Release date
  • August 25, 1965 (1965-08-25)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,000,000[2]


Robert Crain (Marlon Brando) is a German pacifist during World War II, living in India as a Swiss national. He is blackmailed by English Colonel Statter (Trevor Howard) and the Allies into going along with a plan to use his engineering knowledge to disable the scuttling charges on a German merchant ship carrying rubber from Japan. The Allies hope to bomb the ship and recover its cargo, as rubber is in short supply and essential for both sides' war effort. They provide Crain with fake documentation and a cover story that he is a high-ranking SS officer needing to sail to Germany.

On board the ship, Crain finds the captain (Yul Brynner) to be a patriotic German whose humanistic inclinations are hostile to Nazi principles. The first officer, Kruse (Martin Benrath), is a fanatical Party member who keeps a close eye on the captain. Crain convinces Kruse that he too is suspicious of the captain's loyalties. Several of the crew are in effect prisoners because of their political views, however they are pressed into service because of labor shortages. In time, after one of them tries to kill him, Crain enlists them in a plan to have the Allies take the ship.

Complications arise when a number of American prisoners and two Germany Naval officers are taken on board from a Japanese submarine. Also brought aboard is Esther (Janet Margolin), a young German Jew who has been raped and tortured by her Nazi captives. Despite the horrors she has been subjected to, she is still openly defiant of every German she encounters on board the ship, including the captain and Crain. The captain, when he is alone with her and is able to overcome her expectation that he too is a brutalizer, tells her he plans to assist her to escape once the ship gets to Europe. However, when Kruse learns that she is Jewish that is no longer a possibility. Later Crain persuades her to join in his plot, but she is disgusted by his lack of commitment to the anti-Nazi cause.

The two German officers, who are familiar with military personnel and operations in the Far East, become suspicious of Crain and radio to Berlin to check on his credentials. That gives him less than 24 hours to complete the mission. While awaiting the report, the captain, upon hearing that his son has become an accomplished Nazi military officer, in a drunken rage reveals the full extent of his anti-Nazi beliefs. This gives Kruse a reason to take command of the ship. About to be exposed, Crain organizes a mutiny. For it to have any chance of success the American prisoners would need to participate, but when Esther appeals to them for help they only agree on condition that she is sexually compliant with them. The mutiny is easily defeated, and Kruse shoots Esther for her part in it. Crain is able to elude the search for him long enough to detonate the demolition charges he had not yet disabled. The surviving crew abandons ship, during which the anti-Nazi German sailors make sure the wounded Kruse drowns. Crain and the captain are the only persons left on board. The lard in the ship's hold spills and acts as a stopper, temporarily keeping the ship afloat. Crain asks the captain to radio the Allies for rescue, and is surprised when the captain does so.



The film did not do well on its original release and was a financial disaster. In an attempt to increase its commercial appeal, the film was reissued in 1965 under a new title as Saboteur: Code Name Morituri. Critic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times criticized it for being "turgid." He praised Brando's performance, however, saying:

It is a role that calls for Mr. Brando to play a slyly deceptive game, conning the suspicious ship's officers into trusting him while he sneaks around defusing the explosive charges, and then to risk his neck in several ways while he secretly musters a gang of prisoners and dissatisfied crewmen to take control of the ship.

And he plays it with evident enjoyment, milking the moments of suspense with all his beautiful skill at holding pauses and letting tense thought churn behind his bland eyes. Again he speaks with a juicy German accent, as he did in "The Young Lions," and affects the elegant air of a fellow who packs an iron first in a silken glove.

But, alas, the melodrama is as turgid as that title they have given the film, and anxiety over the fate of Mr. Brando is dissipated in a vastly cluttered plot.[3]

The title "Morituri", the plural of a Latin word meaning "about to die," is a reference to a phrase used by Suetonius, Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant. (Hail Emperor, they who are about to die salute you.)

Critic reviews of the time have not been collated on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film has a 71% approval rating by audience viewers.[4]

Box office

According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $10,500,000 in rentals to break even and made $4,045,000.[5]


The film was nominated for two Oscars in the 38th Academy Awards (1966) for best black-and-white cinematography (Conrad L. Hall) and best black-and-white costume design (Moss Mabry).

Meet Marlon Brando

After having appeared in a series of box office disappointments, Brando agreed to promote Morituri for the studio by participating in a day-long press junket at the Hampshire Hotel in New York City.[6] This event was the subject of Meet Marlon Brando (1966), a 29-minute black-and-white documentary film directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin.[7] Brando was praised for his performance in the documentary by critic Howard Thompson who wrote, "The actor was never more appealing than in this candid-camera cameo, his best performance."[6]

The documentary premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1966. Since then, it has aired on French television but was not shown in its entirety in the United States until Fandor made it available on November 15, 2013.[8]


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p254
  2. Anticipated rentals accruing distributors in North America. See "Top Grossers of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 36
  3. BOSLEY CROWTHER, "Seaborne Melodrama at Midtown Theaters", New York Times, 26 August 1965, accessed 17 April 2016
  4. Morituri at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 324.
  6. Meet Marlon Brando (1965) Fandor.
  7. Meet Marlon Brando Maysles Films, Inc.
  8. Bernstein, Paula. "Exclusive Clip from 'Meet Marlon Brando,' Maysles Brothers Doc, Available for the First Time", Indiewire, 14 November 2013
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