The Captain's Paradise

The Captain's Paradise is a 1953 British comedy film produced and directed by Anthony Kimmins, and starring Alec Guinness, Yvonne De Carlo, and Celia Johnson. Guinness plays the captain of a passenger ship that travels regularly between Gibraltar and Spanish Morocco. De Carlo plays his Moroccan wife and Johnson plays his British wife. The film begins at just before the end of the story, which is then told in a series of flashbacks.

The Captain's Paradise
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Kimmins
Produced byAnthony Kimmins
Written byAlec Coppel
Nicholas Phipps
Based onstory by Alec Coppel
StarringAlec Guinness
Celia Johnson
Yvonne De Carlo
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyEdward Scaife
Edited byGerald Turney-Smith
Distributed byBritish Lion Films (UK)
Lopert Pictures Corporation
United Artists (USA)
Release date
9 June 1953
Running time
93 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£146,548(UK)[1]
$1,000,000 (est.) (US/Canada)[2]

In 1958, the story was made into a Broadway musical comedy, retitled Oh, Captain!.


In early 1950s North Africa, a man (Alec Guinness) is escorted through an angry, clamouring crowd by a platoon of soldiers. They enter a fort and it is clear that he is to be executed. The commander (Peter Bull) orders the men to line up in two rows and gives the order to fire. As the shots ring out, the scene changes to a ferry ship, the "Golden Fleece" in the docks as the passengers embark for the two days' journey to Gibraltar. Amongst the crew, there is much dismay, and the chief officer, Carlos Ricco (Charles Goldner) takes to his cabin with the clear intention of getting drunk. He is interrupted by an elderly gentleman, Lawrence St. James (Miles Malleson), who had come to speak with his nephew, Captain Henry St. James on an unspecified, but urgent, matter. He is profoundly shocked to learn that the grief he had encountered on the ship is due to the death of the man he had travelled from England to see. He begs Ricco, to explain what has led to such an event. He learns that his nephew Henry was the prosperous owner and skipper of this small passenger ship which he captained as it ferried regularly to and fro between Gibraltar and Kalique, a port in North Africa.

Flashback to Morocco. Henry St. James lives with his lover, Nita (Yvonne de Carlo)  a young, hot-blooded, exotic lady. She is 13 years younger than he and refers to him as "her Jimmy". He takes her out every night to expensive, fashionable restaurants and night clubs, where they lead a loud and wild lifestyle. In Gibraltar, he shares his life with Maud (Celia Johnson)  his devoted, domesticated wife, just three years his junior  living a respectable, sober existence, and going to bed every night no later than ten o'clock with mugs of cocoa. St James gives Nita lingerie. He gives Maud a vacuum cleaner. Both are delighted. On board his ship he disdains all female company choosing intellectual discussions with male passengers at the Captain's table. He has found a perfect existence  his paradise.

Growing perhaps complacent, St. James makes a careless mistake. This leads to Ricco, up till then believing Nita to be the captain's wife, discovering that the true Mrs. St James is living in Gibraltar. Ricco is glad to assist St. James in maintaining the deception and is soon called into action when Maud flies to Kalique and by chance meets Nita. St. James arranges to have Maud arrested before she and Nita realise that they are married to the same man. He convinces Maud that Morocco is a dangerous place and that she should never return there.

The years pass by. Maud has twins. She is thrilled with her two boys, but when they are sent to school in England, Maud is no longer enamoured with her existence. She wants to dance and drink gin. On the other hand, Nita wants to stay home and cook for her man. Henry is dismayed and makes every effort to keep everything just the way it was. His attempts to maintain the status quo result in both women taking lovers. When St James discovers Nita's infidelity, he leaves the flat as she continues the argument with her lover, Absalom. Nita shoots and kills her lover. In order to protect Nita, Captain St. James claims that he was the killer.

The execution is then shown, but the firing squad swing their rifles to the left and shoot their commanding officer. St. James hands them money and walks away.



The film was based on an original story by Alec Coppel. Nicholas Phipps wrote the script.[3]

It was called Paradise. In 1951 it was announced that Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer would star.[4] The following year it was announced Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were going to star, with Olivier to direct and Alex Korda to possibly produce.[5]

Olivier and Leigh became unavailable. According to Yvonne de Carlo, when she was offered her role by director Anthony Kimmins, agreed to do it if Alec Guinness played the lead. Kimmins said it was unlikely to get Guinness and that they would probably go for Ray Milland or Michael Wilding; de Carlo urged they try Guinness again and the actor accepted.[6] (Alec Guinness had a contract with Alex Korda to make one film a year and he agreed to star.[7]) Celia Johnson signed to play the other lead.[8]

Kimmins said, "We're trying to show man's triple side... there's the domestic wife – pipe and slippers side; then the jungle side – the girl-in-port sort of thing. Then there's the conversational, man-to-man side... And naturally we stay tongue in cheek throughout so we don't expect to wreck any homes."[9]

Yvonne de Carlo said she enjoyed the film because she "got the chance to act".[10] She found working with Guinness "an exhilarating experience".[11]


UK release

The film was a hit at the British box office.[12]

US Release

The film was refused approval by the US Production Code on the ground it was immoral because the lead character was a bigamist. An extra scene was shot to say St James only lived with Nita in North Africa, he was not married to her, he was only married to Maud. This allowed the film to be released.[13][14]

There were further issues with censors in the US. The film was banned in Maryland because it "made light of marriage".[15]

Eventually further changes were made. A line referring to Guinness' character as a "saint" was cut, and an epilogue added to the end which stated the film was only a fairytale.[16]

The movie was widely seen in the USA. A Variety article in January 1954 said:

Rising popularity of Britain’s Alec Guinness among U. S. pic audiences is. reflected in the fact that... [the film] is expected to outgross all that has gone before it... it has grossed $350,000 so far in 29 dates and is being helped along also by its much publicized difficulties with both the Production Code and local censors. If it continues its present pace, “Paradise” may gross more than the three prior Guinness pix together. “Lavender Hill Mob” so far has done $580,000; “Man in the White Suit” $460,000, and “The Promoter” $480,000. [17]

In April 1954 Variety added:

Guinness films have usually won praise from the key-city critics but until now had limited pull beyond the “art" circuit. But with his current “Captain’s Paradise” he’s now bigtime b.o. Pic... figures to ring up $1,000,000 in theatre rentals in the U. S. and Canada...“Paradise" has chalked up $630,000 in distribution loot in less than 1,500 dates. UA figures the film is a cinch to play a total of 5,000 bookings— exhibitor deals are being set at the rate of over 200 a week — and on this basis the $1,000,000 in total rentals looks for sure. Pic has been an especially remarkable click at the Paris Theatre, N.. Y., where the run is now in its 30th week and likely will continue for about another month.[2]

Award nominations

Alec Coppel was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Story.[18]


Included as part of the Alec Guinness Collection,The Captain's Paradise was released on DVD in September 2002.


  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p499
  2. "Guinness' million gross in the US". Variety. 21 April 1954. p. 7.
  3. THE LONDON FILM SCENE: Prize-Winning Movie a Problem to Its Producer -- Money-Maker -- Addenda By STEPHEN WATTS . New York Times 16 May 1954: X5.
  4. BY WAY OF REPORT: MAYHEM AND ROMANCE By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 6 May 1951: X5.
  5. HEDDA HOPPER: Donald O'Connor Goes to Metro for 'Melvin' Los Angeles Times 31 Jan 1952: 14.
  6. De Carlo, Yvonne; Warren, Doug (1987). Yvonne : an autobiography. St Martins Press. p. 174.
  7. Guinness Credits Success to Luck Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, California [Los Angeles, Calif]23 Oct 1955: D1.
  8. Looking at Hollywood: Tracy a Bored Husband in 'Flight to Islands' HEDDA HOPPER'S STAFF. Chicago Daily Tribune 28 Oct 1952: b3.
  10. "DON IDDON'S AMERICAN DIARY". The Advertiser. 96 (29, 834). Adelaide. 28 May 1954. p. 2. Retrieved 22 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  11. De Carlo p 175
  12. "DON IDDON'S New York Diary". The Sun (13795). New South Wales, Australia. 29 April 1954. p. 26 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Retrieved 22 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  13. "Sees herself as a new Jean Arthur". Sunday Mail. Queensland, Australia. 13 December 1953. p. 33. Retrieved 22 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  14. "Adultery vs Bigamy". Variety. 7 October 1953. p. 7.
  15. Alec Guinness Film Banned In Maryland The Washington Post 25 Nov 1953: 33.
  16. "Film Censorship Gets Rude Jolts". Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (24, 123). New South Wales, Australia. 30 January 1954. p. 5. Retrieved 22 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  17. "Alec Guinness Now Money Star in US". Variety. 13 January 1954. p. 2.
  18. "Academy Awards Database: The Captain's Paradise". Retrieved 17 April 2015.
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