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Rulers of the Sea (1939)

Approved | | Drama | 17 December 1939 (USA)
Story of the beginnings of the steam-powered engine and its use in the first steamship voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.


Frank Lloyd


Talbot Jennings (story and screenplay), Frank Cavett (story and screenplay) | 1 more credit »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ... David Gillespie
Margaret Lockwood ... Mary Shaw
Will Fyffe ... John Shaw
George Bancroft ... Captain Oliver
Montagu Love ... Malcolm Grant
Vaughan Glaser Vaughan Glaser ... Junius Smith
David Torrence ... Donald Fenton
Lester Matthews ... Lieut. Roberts
Alec Craig ... Foreman
Barlowe Borland ... Magistrate
Wilson Benge Wilson Benge ... Campbell
Harry Allen Harry Allen ... Murdock
Barry Macollum Barry Macollum ... Miller
David Cavendish David Cavendish ... First Officer Lewis (as Denis d'Auburn)
David Clyde ... Second Mate Evans


Story of the beginnings of the steam-powered engine and its use in the first steamship voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


RULERS OF DESTINY! Battling the proud, tall-masted sailing ships for the command of the WESTERN OCEAN! (Print Ad- Fort Dodge Messenger- News, ((Fort Dodge, Iowa)) 14 March 1940)




Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

17 December 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Les maîtres de la mer See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film is based on two original British steamships, the SS Sirius and the SS Great Western. The SS Sirius was built in 1837 and was serving the London-Cork line until the quest for steam-crossing the Atlantic took her to this adventure. She had condensers which worked with fresh water which allowed less maintenance so quicker journeys. She sailed from Cork and arrived in New York in April 22nd. 1838 after a 18-day trip, only a day ahead of the SS Great Western, which had been specially built for the Atlantic steam crossing but left England (Avonmouth, near Bristol) four days later (so she was faster, but left later). In the film the Sirius, a working replica of which was built, is renamed Dog Star (as Sirius is the dog star), but keeps her original Royal Navy captain's name (Lt. Richard Roberts). The SS Savannah, an American ship, had been the first one to cross the Atlantic in 1819 from Savannah to Liverpool, only partially using steam power and with no passengers daring to embark considering it too dangerous. See more »

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User Reviews

Quite enjoyable.
4 February 2019 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

"Rulers of the Sea" is a heavily fictionalized account of the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic and how it came to be. And, as long as you don't expect it to be a history lesson, there's plenty to enjoy.

David Gillespie (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is the first mate on a sailing ship when the film begins. When a man dies aboard, he's disenchanted and wants to give up and get his own ship. Instead, he bumps into John Shaw (Will Fyffe)...a man with a dream of a steam ship able to cross the Atlantic. Previously, Robert Fulton's steam ship took its maiden voyage two decades earlier...but steam ships were only used for local travel as they were considered too unreliable and not powerful enough for cross-Atlantic travel. Togther, GIllespie and Shaw dedicate their lives to making this dream come true and the film ends with this maiden voyage.

There are a few things that make this a less than fabulous movie...such as Fairbanks' on again off again Scottish accent as well as the picture seeming a bit overlong. But on balance, it does manage to get you hooked and is a crowd pleaser. Pleasant and interesting despite the seeming dullness of such a picture.

By the way, if you do watch, look for a young Alan Ladd as a young sailor near the beginning of the movie.

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