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Dogwatch (1997)


A disgraced alcoholic sea captain (Steven Vidler) takes a rusty Chinese cargo boat to sea, with a small crew. Their job is to sink the ship for insurance money, but Heckle, the chief officer (John Brumpton) also plans a little gun-running, to rebel tribes in the Philippines. Relations between captain and crew are made worse by the presence of Palmer (Russell Kiefel), a decrepit musician who is being deported from China. When the crew discovers that they’re also carrying several bodies, victims of a triad turf war, the captain decides they can’t sink the ship. The Chinese crewman Hong (John Alansu) predicts that they’re all going to die.

Curator’s notes

Dogwatch is a curious mixture of old-fashioned genre elements, combined in surprising ways. It’s like a more self-conscious version of a 1940s Hollywood studio thriller, the kind made by Warner Bros with Humphrey Bogart, but with a slightly supernatural element. Russell Kiefel’s character – a diseased presence in body and mind – is an angel of death, a night-club pianist who skulks around the ship like the vampire Nosferatu. The problem with the film is that none of the conflict is satisfyingly developed or resolved. There is a fair amount of talk, but not enough action. When the crew members start to die, they fall over like nine pins, in a bewildering series of accidents and murders. It’s neither satisfying as genre – and which genre is it? – nor as post-modern deconstruction of genre. There are some effective sequences, but the film suffers overall from a woolly script and conception. It was never released theatrically.