While a lot of the acting and motivation reeks of the phoney, Slave Ship is so effectively mounted and shot through with action that it stands up.
Director Tay Garnett passes up no known artifice for intensifying the gymnastic implications of ship fighting. He has his bullet-struck sailors popping off from the halyards, the crow’s nest and where not. The dives these extras take make an Olympiad in themselves.
As a couple of the last of the slave runners, Warner Baxter and Wallace Beery move along elementary grooves, the former going from one tight spot to another, and the latter playing his dumb, sentimental scalawag to the hilt. Elizabeth Allan carves out a telling performance where it has to do with romantic interludes. Mickey Rooney also bats out a neat score, accounting for most of the film’s scanty allotment of comedy as the cabin boy.
Most of the action [from the novel by George S. King] is laid aboard the barque Albatross. Ill-fated from the day she is launched, the ship finally comes into the ownership of Baxter who, with Beery as his first mate and partner, puts her in the trade of smuggling slaves from Africa to America.