John Wayne: I figured they always connect a Swede accent with low comedy
Actor John Wayne worked with legendary filmmaker John Ford on The Long Voyage Home after the 1939 hit film Stagecoach. However, he had some insecurities that he needed to get past before he could get through the filming process. Ford wanted Wayne to use a Swedish accent for his character in The Long Voyage Home, which terrified the actor of spreading unintentional laughter through theaters across the country.
John Wayne played a Swedish sailor in ‘The Long Voyage Home´
Wayne played Ole Olson, a young Swedish sailor, in The Long Voyage Home. It was based on Eugene O’Neill’s one-act plays, which required him to perform as a bit of a shy and awkward character. This was before the actor fully developed the tough on-screen persona that he went down in history for thanks to his body language and booming voice.
Ford’s movie was set in the early days of World War II. Ole is on an English cargo ship called the SS Glencairn, where he’s traveling with an Englishman, an American, and Irishmen. They discover that they have dynamite onboard as new cargo, which strikes them as nerve-wracking. The group becomes increasingly convinced that there’s a Nazi spy on the ship, as loneliness continues to haunt them on the open sea.
According to Maurice Zolotow’s Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne, the movie star had some concerns ahead of shooting The Long Voyage Home. The ensemble concept didn’t differ too much from Stagecoach. But, the actor wasn’t comfortable having to speak his dialogue with a Swedish accent. He was terrified that audiences would find unintentional comedy in his accent if he were to do so. He specifically referred to El Brendel’s Swedish accent in The Big Trail.
“I figured they always connect a Swede accent with low comedy,” Wayne said. Nevertheless, Ford insisted that he needed to use the accent for the role. After all, he had the final say on such matters. The movie star remained nervous, telling his agent that he was going to “sink like the freighter that’s torpedoed,” referring to the torpedo that hit SS Aminta in the film.
Wayne became friends with a Danish actor named Osa Massen to help him perfect his Swedish accent to ensure that they don’t come off as potentially humorous. After all, the actor took up similar approaches to learning Italian and French–”to combine linguistics and love.”
Wayne and The Long Voyage Home itself earned high praise from the critics. However, it didn’t do so well at the box office. The movie lost over $200,000 at the box office despite having the Western star and Ford’s names attached to the project.
Nevertheless, The Long Voyage Home stood the test of time. The rave reviews of the time continued into modern times, earning 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Additionally, it’s sitting at a 70% audience score.