Actor Lew Ayres, one of the original choices for John Harker in Dracula, directs a large cast in Hearts in Bondage, a Hollywood version of the Civil War encounter between the "ironclads" Monitor and Merrimac, and the events preceding the battle.
United States Navy Lieutenant Kenneth Reynolds (James Dunn) is engaged to Constance Jordan, (Mae Clarke) whose brother Raymond (DM) is also a Naval officer. When Virginia secedes from the Union, Kenneth remains loyal while Raymond pledges himself to his home state. Put in charge of the Merrimac, Kenneth disobeys direct orders to burn the ship (sinking it instead) during the Rebel attack on the Norfolk Navy Yard, and is summarily dishonorably discharged. His fortunes sag even further when he is unjustly imprisoned for sedition but is ultimately released through his uncle, ship designer John Ericsson's influence. Rushing to thwart the South's iron reinforcing of the now-raised Merrimac, Kenneth helps his uncle design the avant-garde Monitor, and is even returned to duty as a member of its crew. Learning Raymond is an officer aboard the Merrimac, Constance pleads with Kenneth not to go, but to no avail. During the battle, Kenneth fires a salvo at a boarding party led by Raymond, killing him. Alienated from Constance, the two are reunited after an inspiring conversation with President Lincoln.
While the story itself is far-fetched and James Dunn makes an insipid hero, Hearts in Bondage does have some good moments, not the least of which are the exciting battle sequences. Much is achieved on an obviously small budget. Fritz Leiber, who played Franz Liszt in 1943's The Phantom of the Opera has quite a few funny lines and DM effectively rallies his men to battle, "All right then, we take Norfolk Navy Yard tonight! Are you with us men?"
One of his last films, Hearts in Bondage shows DM obviously still in his prime.