Hearts in Bondage (1936)  



Director:     Lew Ayres. 

Starring:     James Dunn (Lieutenant Kenneth Reynolds),  Mae Clarke (Constance Jordan),  David Manners (Raymond Jordan),  Charlotte Henry (Julie Buchanan),  Henry B. Walthall (Captain Buchanan),  Fritz Leiber (Captain John Ericsson),  George Irving (Commodore Jordan),  Irving Pichel (Secretary of War Sumner Gideon Welles),  J.M. Kerrigan (Paddy Callahan),  Frank McGlynn Sr. (Abraham Lincoln),  Ben Alexander (Eggleston),  Oscar Apfel (Captain Gilman),  Clay Clement (Lieutenant Worden). 

battle between the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) and the USS Monitor


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This is a story of ships and men  -- iron ships and men of iron  -- the monitors of liberty.  To the first 'Monitor' of them all, to the gallant men who fought for and against her, this picture is respectfully dedicated."

1861.  A sign says:  "Recruits wanted;  Seventh Militia, New York's best; pay to date from day of mustering in; Headquarters No. 813 Broadway for all necessary information."  A soldier asks men to join the Seventh Militia as they walk by.  Two navy men, Raymond Jordan and Lt. Kenneth Reynolds, come by and suggest that they change the tune they are playing from "John Brown's Body Lies a Moldering in His Grave" to something more cheerful.  The army fellows change the tune and the navy guys have a good laugh.  The Lieutenant has a liking for Raymond's sister Constance Jordan. 

Lt. Kenneth Reynolds comes in to surprise his uncle busy at work.  Uncle tells him to go away until he realizes that it's his nephew.  He's awfully glad to see Kenneth.  Kenneth works on the USS Merrimack.  Reynolds' uncle is no other Captain John Ericsson (inventor of the ironclad).  He wants to show Kenneth his design, but Kenneth wants to go see Constance.

Kenneth and Constance ice-skate together.  They laugh and have fun and then kiss.  Raymond comes skating over with Julie Buchanan, daughter of Captain Buchanan.  Julie thinks the Kenneth and Constance are engaged, so Raymond congratulates the couple.  Kenneth tells Julie that Constance has not accepted him as of yet, so Julie moves over to him. This causes Constance to be a bit jealous and she comes skating over to say she does accept Kenneth's offer. 

The two couples return to the Jordan home.  There they see Commodore Jordan and Captain Buchanan in the process of leaving the house.  The older gentlemen explain that something important has come up and they have to go.  Constance is worried that it may be something very serious. 

The Commodore and the Captain go to see the Secretary of the Navy Sumner Gideon Welles.  President Lincoln is there in the room.  The Secretary tells the men gathered there that six states of the South have formed the Confederate States of America.  Captain Buchanan of Virginia resigns to join the Confederate forces.  Commodore Jordan is also from Virginia, but he says he will stay in the US Navy.  Julie Buchanan is going back to Virginia with her father.  She breaks up with Raymond. 

Raymond and Kenneth go see the Commodore.  They are to report to their ships immediately, but Raymond resigns from the US Navy.  He says good-bye to his father and leaves.  The Commodore tells Kenneth to report to Captain Gillman in command of  the Gosport Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia.  He will have temporary command of the USS Merrimack.   Kenneth goes to say good-bye to Constance. 

In Norfolk influential men talk to Captain Buchanan to urge him to take the navy yard from the Union.  The Captain objects that war has not been declared, so the men decide by themselves to take the navy yard tonight. Kenneth is on the USS Merrimack now.  A messenger reports to the navy yard to say that three regiments of Confederate soldiers are headed their way.  Captain Gillman gives the order to set fire to the navy yard to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Confederacy.  Kenneth is given the order to set fire to his ship, but he refuses.  Instead, he says he will take the ship out to sea.  But the officer sent by Gillman tells his men to set fire to the ship.  Kenneth goes below deck to let water into the ship.  He wants to save her hull and engines.

Captain Gillman is furious with Kenneth.  He says he has saved the ship for the Confederacy who will be able to raise the ship and use her.  He charges Kenneth with insubordination and mutiny.  He places Kenneth under arrest.  Kenneth is dismissed from the service with a dishonorable discharge. 

Kenneth now works with his uncle on the ironclad.  Constance comes to visit Kenneth.  The guys have just finished with the miniature model of the future ironclad USS Monitor.  In shape the model looks like a model of a modern submarine. 

Ericsson shows the model to the naval people in Washington, D.C.  The men, however, have already awarded the contract to Mr. Bushnell.  Ericsson is mad, says Bushnell is bound to fail and leaves.  He and Kenneth go to a bar and Ericsson drinks quite a bit to drown his disappointment.  Commodore David Farragutt comes into the bar and orders a mint julep.  The men at the bar take exception to his drink order, since it is a southern drink, but when the Commodore tells them who he is, they are all smiles.  The Commodore knows Ericsson and goes over to shake his hand.  Kenneth tells Farragutt why they have come to Washington and Farragutt says he wants to see the model.  At first Ericsson objects, but he soon gives in.  Farragutt, accompanied by his friend Bushnell, goes up to see the model.  Bushnell is so impressed that he abandons his design and combines forces with Ericsson. 

Commodore Jordan has received some bad news.  The Confederates have raised the Merrimack and now his son Raymond is third in command of the vessel.  Ericsson's Monitor will have to go up against the Merrimack and destroy her.  At Greenport, Long Island the Monitor is built in record time.  In the trials of the boat, the Monitor's steering wheel jams.  Some of the naval experts says the Monitor is not seaworthy.   Lincoln comes into the room.  He speaks to Lt. Worden to congratulate him on volunteering to be the captain of the Monitor.  The President tells the Secretary of the Navy that the crew should be composed of all volunteers.  In a hurry, Lincoln leaves the room. 

It is harder to get volunteers for the Monitor than thought.  Kenneth calls in some of his former crews to volunteer and they come.  But when they learn that Kenneth can't be on the ship with them they say they won't go.  So the Captain asks Kenneth if he wants to come along.  Kenneth says that's not possible, but the Captain says he can go nevertheless. Captain Gillman shows up for a last inspection of the Monitor and he tells Captain Worden that Kenneth is not going and that's that.  Ericsson intervenes and says since the Monitor is not paid for, it will stay here tied up at the dock if Kenneth can't go aboard the ship.  Gillman has to give in. 

Constance is upset that Kenneth is going because her brother is an officer on the Merrimack.  She begs him not to go.  Kenneth leaves.  Constance hears some reporters talking.  They call the Monitor the "Iron Coffin" and bet that none of the crew survives. 

March 8, 1862.  The ironclad Merrimack, certain of victory, is ready to destroy the wooden ships of the Union blockade at Hampton Roads.  Commodore Buchanan will address the men.  The ship attacks the Cumberland and rams it.  The Cumberland sinks.  Then the ship attacks the Congress and it goes down.  Commodore Buchanan is hit in the shoulder.  The tide goes out and the risk of grounding the Merrimack is too great, so they decide to resume the fight the next day. 

The next day the Merrimack goes after the Massachusetts, but the monitor is there.  The two ships fire at each other.  They are only a few yards away from each other.  Captain Worden of the Monitor is badly wounded and has to retire.  The Confederates decide to board the Monitor and take the ship that way, but Kenneth fires a shot that takes out the boarding party.  The Merrimack retreats, while Kenneth grieves over the death of Constance's brother and his best friend. 

Kenneth speaks with Constance.  She says she has no animosity toward Kenneth.  Mr. Lincoln comes along and speaks to both of them.  This seems to soften Constance's heart and grief.


Good, simple, short movie.  Interesting story of the building of the ironclads and the actual clash between the two ironclads in the American Civil War in 1862.  The love stories could have been expanded upon, as well as the strains created in the families involved by the war, but I still enjoyed the movie nevertheless.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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