AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Thunder Bay
Director: Anthony Mann (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 1953
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 20 May 1953; Los Angeles opening: 29 Jul 1953
Production Date:   late Sep--mid-Nov 1952
Duration (in mins):   102-103
Duration (in feet):   9,237
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   James Stewart (Steve Martin)  
    Joanne Dru (Stella Rigaud)  
    Gilbert Roland (Teche Bossier)  
    Dan Duryea (Johnny Gambi)  
    Jay C. Flippen (Kermit MacDonough)  
    Marcia Henderson (Francesca Rigaud)  
    Robert Monet (Philippe Bayard)  
    Antonio Moreno (Dominique Rigaud)  
    Henry ["Harry"] Morgan (Rawlins)  
    Fortunio Bonanova (Sheriff Antoine Chighizola)  
    Mario Siletti (Louis Chighizola)  
    Antonio Filauri (Joe Sephalu)  
    Frank Chase (Radio technician)  
    Allen Pinson (Oilman)  
    Dale Van Sickel (Oilman)  
    Ted Mapes (Oilman)  
    Elvin C. Alford (Oilman)  
    Ben Welden (Fisherman)  
    Jean Hartelle (Fisherman)  
    Jack Tesler (Fisherman)  
    Adrine Champagne (Fisherman)  
    Donald Green (Fisherman)  
    Joseph Cefalu (Fisherman)  
    Lee Vaccari (Fisherman)  
    George F. Kelly Jr. (Technician)  
    Laurie J. Vining (Technician)  
    Emanuel Russo (Radioman)  
    Joseph Guidry (Oil worker)  
    Milton Schneider (Ralph Parker)  
    Louis Topham    

Summary: Penniless but full of ideas, Steve Martin and Johnny Gambi, engineers who served in the Navy during World War II, walk down a quiet road on the gulf coast of Louisiana. Teche Bossier, owner of the Port Felicity Fish Co., agrees to drive them into the shrimping town of Port Felicity in exchange for five dollars. Upon reaching their destination, Gambi rents a shrimp boat from Dominique Rigaud, although the fisherman's daughter Stella distrusts the strangers immediately. Gambi and Steve use the boat to show potential investor Kermit MacDonough the location in which they plan to drill for offshore oil. Claiming that he has designed a drilling platform that can withstand any storm, Steve estimates that by investing one million dollars now, they will soon tap an oil reserve worth two billion. His enthusiasm is so infectious that MacDonough agrees to fund the project against the advice of his secretary, Rawlins. MacDonough warns Steve, however, that he must discover oil within three months, or his company, due to huge investments made in an offshore oil lease, will put them both out of work. Several weeks later, Gambi meets and falls for Stella's younger sister Francesca, but, according to custom, she has been betrothed since childhood to Philippe Bayard. After singing a love song in the Bon Chance, a local gathering place, Philippe is distressed to see Francesca enter with Gambi. Teche, who good-naturedly calls the oilmen "foreigners," agrees to help Steve and Gambi, but Stella, claiming that she learned about "their kind" during her stay in Chicago, refuses to accept Steve's statement that oil will be good for the town. Nevertheless, the outsiders hire a crew and begin their search for oil. When Teche sees them drop dynamite charges into the gulf, he begs them to stop, believing that the explosions will kill the shrimp and worsen an already dismal shrimping season. Steve maintains that the charges are safe, but Teche returns to town and incites the fishermen to form an angry mob. Steve finally scares them away by exploding sticks of dynamite behind them, and he placates Stella by warning Gambi to stay away from Francesca. "Go back to your people," Steve gently advises Francesca. With one month gone, Steve drives the building crew relentlessly, and the platform and rig are completed on schedule. Steve immediately orders the drilling crew to get started, and the exhausted Gambi is relieved when a hurricane warning gives the men an excuse to take the night off. Gambi and his men enter the Bon Chance with Francesca, and Philippe, furious, punches his rival and starts a brawl. The sheriff arrests the oilmen, and Francesca angrily denounces all the men. Determined to have Gambi fired, Stella visits Steve at the rig, where he explains that if he could pull up a resource that has been in the earth for millions of years, then he will truly have accomplished something. Stella finally abandons her suspicion and kisses Steve, but back in town, Philippe persuades Teche to help him destroy the oil rig. With the hurricane winds rising, Philippe climbs onto the platform and lights a bundle of dynamite, but Steve sees him and the two men fight. Philippe trips and disappears under the waves, and Steve, horrified, assumes that Stella was involved in Philippe's plot. The rig survives the storm, and in the morning, drilling begins. Eight days before the deadline, however, MacDonough visits Steve and sadly delivers the news: The board of his company, fearing a penalty for non-payment on their lease, has voted to stop the drilling operation on the following day. MacDonough has already spent all of his own money, and the crew is unable to work for no pay. At that moment, Gambi returns from town, announcing that he has just married Francesca. Steve punches Gambi, who loudly chastises Steve for having driven him and the men too hard. Steve tells them all to leave, intending to do the drilling himself, whereupon Gambi hesitates and then persuades the crew to remain. While the men are drilling, they discover that the troublesome shrimp that have been clogging the valves are actually the huge golden shrimp that have so long eluded the local fishermen. Later Steve takes Francesca to the rig, infuriating Dominique, who inflames the fisherman by declaring that the oilmen will steal their daughters and destroy the town. At Stella's request, Teche warns Steve that every boat in town is on its way to the rig. Feigning ignorance about the golden shrimp, Steve asks Teche if he can help him get rid of the creatures and then addresses the furious mob. Francesca's marriage is a happy one, he assures the men, and moreover, oil will bring progress to Port Felicity. Despite these words, the fishermen decide to destroy the structure, but at that moment, oil explodes through the rig and onto the platform. The fishermen discover that the golden shrimp bed is huge; consequently, the conflict between the oilmen and the fishermen is resolved. Teche then convinces Steve that Stella was not involved in Philippe's plot, and the lovers finally come together. 

Production Company: Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Co., Inc.  
Director: Anthony Mann (Dir)
  John Sherwood (Asst dir)
  Marshall Green (Asst dir)
  James Welch (Asst dir)
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg (Prod)
Writer: Gil Doud (Scr)
  John Michael Hayes (Scr)
  John Michael Hayes (Story)
  George W. George (Based on an idea by)
  George F. Slavin (Based on an idea by)
Photography: William Daniels (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen (Art dir)
  Richard H. Riedel (Art dir)
Film Editor: Russell Schoengarth (Film ed)
  Verna MacCurran (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman (Set dec)
  Oliver Emert (Set dec)
Costumes: Rosemary Odell (Gowns)
Music: Frank Skinner (Mus)
Sound: Leslie I. Carey (Sd)
  Joe Lapis (Sd)
  James Swartz (Sd)
  Jack Bolger (Sd)
  Everett Smith (Sd)
Make Up: Joan St. Oegger (Hairstylist)
  Bud Westmore (Makeup)
Production Misc: Lew Leary (Unit prod mgr)
Color Personnel: William Fritzsche (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Guégué Solin Gaie," French Creole lullaby, arranged by Milton Rosen.
Composer: Milton Rosen

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co. 8/5/1953 dd/mm/yyyy LP2785

PCA NO: 16159
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85:1

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
Subjects (Major): Cajuns
  Cultural conflict
  Oil prospectors
  Shrimpers (Persons)
Subjects (Minor): Bars
  Fathers and daughters
  Fishing boats
  Fishing villages
  Gulf of Mexico
  Oil tycoons
  Vocational obsession

Note: The NYT reviewer commented that the 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio of Thunder Bay , although not as wide as CinemaScope's 2.55 to 1 ratio, was "pleasingly effective." The film also marked Universal's first use of stereophonic sound, which at the time was presentable only in select theaters. Some contemporary reviewers complained that the sound, with its use of three speakers, was loud and distracting. Publicity materials indicate that the picture was originally planned as a 3-D production. Although the character played by Jay C. Flippin is listed as "MacDonald" in reviews and CBCS, he is called "MacDonough" in the film. Similarly, Henry Morgan's character is listed as "Rawlings" in offscreen cast lists, but is called "Rawlins" in the picture.
       According to the HR review and news items, most of the picture was shot in Morgan City, LA, and some scenes were shot in New Orleans and on an oil-drilling barge thirty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Several reviewers did note that offshore oil drilling was a "headline subject" at the time. Thunder Bay marked the feature film debuts of Marcia Henderson and Robert Monet. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   1 May 53   p. 212.
Box Office   9 May 1953.   
Daily Variety   5 May 53   p. 3.
The Exhibitor   20 May 53   pp. 3524-25.
Film Daily   5 May 53   p. 6.
Harrison's Reports   9 May 53   p. 74.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 52   p. 3, 5.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 52   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Sep 52   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Nov 52   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 53   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jun 53   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   9 May 53   p. 1829.
New York Times   21 May 53   p. 39.
Variety   6 May 53   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.