Wednesday, November 13, 2002


If this odd film were made today, it would probably be a scruffy indie film; the fact that it actually works as a mainstream and fairly glossy Hollywood movie with big stars in the leads is one of the strangest things about it. The first half is set on a brutal penal colony island in French Guyana. Clark Gable, a prisoner, has the hots for loose woman Joan Crawford. He sneaks away from work detail to visit her in her rooms and when he's caught, they both get in trouble. Meanwhile, a mysterious prisoner (Ian Hunter) appears seemingly out of nowhere. He's accepted by the men, although it's clear from early on that he's something of an otherworldly figure. He joins Gable and some other men on a break-out through a jungle (with Crawford tagging along). One by one, the men undergo spiritual conversions, seeing the error of their ways and being reconciled to their fates by Hunter before they die or disappear. Much of it plays out like a quasi-Christian "Twilight Zone" episode.

Some of the other men include Albert Dekker, Eduardo Cianelli, John Arledge, and Paul Lukas, who is quite good as the one man who won't accept Hunter and his message of redemption; his bleak speech just before he slips off into the darkness is a highlight, and helps make the movie more than just a 40's "Touched by an Angel." The jungle scenes are tense and well done, though ultimately the entire first half winds up being a bit beside the point. It doesn't take much looking between the lines to see a homoerotic relationship between and a young man and an older mentor that is handled subtly. Peter Lorre has a small role as a slimy informer. There is some rather forced Christ symbolism, but mostly the allegorical Christian elements work rather well, being mostly non-denominational, and a little creepy at times. After a slow start, a very interesting film indeed. Oh, yeah, Gable and Crawford are both fine, and Hunter is very good.

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