The Sargasso Ogre and The Isle of Lost Ships

In 1909, Crittenden Marriott’s novel, “The Isle of Dead Ships” was published. In 1923, it was made into a silent movie as “The Isle of Lost Ships.” The movie was subsequently remade with new actors and released in 1929 with sound. The movie centers on a large ocean liner damaged in a collision with an abandoned ship. The damaged liner drifts into the heart of Sargasso Sea where it is surrounded by an assortment of wrecked ship collected over the centuries. The liner has only three survivors, detective Jackson (Robert Emmett O’Connor), his prisoner Frank Howard (Jason Robards, Sr.,), and a woman name Dorothy Whitlock (Virginia Valli). The trio meets the strange inhabitants of the floating island who are led by the brutish Captain Peter Forbes, portrayed by Noah Beery. Based on newspaper articles of the time, the sound version appears to have been a very popular film with many articles and accompanying photographs.

The 1923 silent version is considered lost. A copy of the 1929 version is held by the Library of Congress. The available information has been gleamed from an assortment of movie reviews and articles. A 1930 news story explains that the movie studio went out of its way to find fifty-two extremely ugly men to portray the subhuman denizens of the Sargasso Sea. These inhabitants are all incredibly rich having scoured the floating derelicts for treasure. They are poor in only one thing- their society has no women. The story has several angles. Detective Jackson becomes convinced his prisoner is innocent. Captain Forbes desires the attractive Whitlock as his wife. Frank Howard locates a stranded submarine and plans their escape from the Sargasso.

“The Isle of Dead Ships” by Crittenden Marriott reads fairly fast and it is interesting. There are some similarities with “The Sargasso Ogre” that are worth nothing. Captain Forbes, like Jacob Bruze, rules by right of animal strength. Forbes also possesses a sizeable fortune in treasure. Captain Forbes has created a base of operations by lashing several ships together. Jacob Bruze’s base consists of two barges lashed together. Doc Savage wonders if Bruze’s gang uses a submarine to leave the Sargasso Sea. A submarine is used in Marriott’s story to escape the vast weed field and is also shown on the cover.

Bruze’s gang makes use of a paddle-wheel mechanism to traverse the weed field. Marriott uses a paddle-wheel steamer to reach the heart of the Sargasso Sea to rescue the remaining survivors and begin salvage operations. Marriott’s story remarks that Columbus’ lost caravels may be in the Sargasso Sea. Coincidentally, Doc Savage and his crew encounter a caravel held fast by the weed. Dent’s story notes that this is the same craft Columbus used on his voyage.

Based on these similarities, it seems likely this movie played a role in Lester Dent’s inspiration for “The Sargasso Ogre.” The timing is right. The sound version of “The Isle of Lost Ships” was released over three years before Dent wrote his own story in 1933.

The paddle-wheel boats used by Bruze, and his gang are similar to a device described in the October 10, 1910, issue of The Motor Boat Devoted to All Types of Power Craft.