Thunder Bay (1953)

“Thunder Bay” (1953) brought offshore drilling for oil to the big screen; the very big screen, as the movie was Universal Pictures first wide-screen format film. The movie also premiered with a new three-speaker stereophonic sound system (  The plot involves two ex-Navy buddies, Steve Martin (James Stewart) and Johnny Gambi (Dan Duryea) trying to be the first to strike oil in offshore Louisiana (1946), and the resistance from the local shrimpers.

The movie was filmed on location near Patterson and Morgan City, Louisiana using the fictional town name of Port Felicity. Filming also took place on an oil barge 30 miles offshore and a few scenes were shot in New Orleans.  Louisiana newspapers covered the filming of the movie during the fall of 1952.  Stewart (1908-1997) described “Thunder Bay” as a Western with boats and oil instead of horses and guns.  During the filming of the movie, co-star Dan Duryea (1907-1968) took a fall from the roof of a tugboat wheelhouse, resulting in bruises, contusions, and a broken rib (The Times, Shreveport, LA 10/17/1952). The Town Talk (10/13/1952) reported that, “The cast of the movie ‘Thunder Bay’ was left high and dry this week at Morgan City, La.  The movie is being filmed by Universal-International.  The film studio had rented a fleet of boats to film a sequence.  But shrimpers had gotten wind of a bonanza catch in the Gulf. So they lit out for the high seas.”

The movie premiered at Lowe’s State Theater, New York City, on May 19, 1953. The many varieties of movie posters, lobby cards, and advertisements for the movie show oil rig scenes, often with catchy captions such as, “The mighty story of the man who fought for the biggest bonanza of them all,” “The hard-hitting story of the adventurers who seek oil under the see, and “A hurricane’s fury before him, a hate-crazed mob at his back and a bayou woman in his blood.” Several movie trailers and film clips of “Thunder Bay” can be found on YouTube.

Spencer, Jeff A., 2012, Oilfield movies: theater posters, lobby cards and other promotional material – selections from pre-1975, Oil-Industry History, v. 13, p. 193-198.

Spencer, Jeff A., 2017, Oilfield movies and Louisiana’s Thunder Bay, New Orleans Geological Society LOG, March, p. 24-25.Thunder bay lobby 2Thunder bay lobby1thunder bay stewart fight lobbyThunder Bay ticket 5_19_1953

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