Friday, March 03, 2006


A grand old entertainment, combining a romance, an "exotic lifestyle" melodrama, and a disaster adventure. Set on the British-ruled South Seas island of Manikoora, the story revolves around a native couple, played by Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour, who have just gotten married. After a rapturous wedding night, Hall has to set off to Tahiti as first mate to ship captain Jerome Cowan; once he's there, Hall gets into a fist fight with a rich white man who has him thrown into jail for 90 days. The native people, we are told, don't take well to imprisonment (something about their natural freedom, though I can't really think of *any* people who enjoy losing their freedom) and Hall tries several times to escape, leading to many extensions of his sentence until he racks up over 15 years. Islanders try to talk the governor of Manikoora (Raymond Massey) into intervening to commute Hall's sentence, but Massey, out of his respect for the law, refuses, claiming that Hall is setting himself above the law. This causes strains in the relationships between Massey and virtually everyone else on the island, including his wife, Mary Astor. Somewhere around year 8, Hall finally makes good on an escape but accidentally kills a prison guard in the process. He swims 600 miles to the island and is reunited with his wife (and daughter, whom he's never seen); Massey finds out and vows to get him, but a killer hurricane comes blowing in, destroying the island and changing the lives of all the residents.

The storm sequence, basically the last 30 minutes or so of the film, is very well done, a mix of actual full-sized effects and miniatures, and it's this aspect of the movie that gets most of the critical attention, but the acting is quite good as well. Hall, though looking fine shirtless, is a bit lightweight and Lamour doesn't have much to do, but the rest of the cast is excellent: Massey as the stiff-backed martinet, Astor as his wife, torn between loyalty to him and sympathy for the island couple, Thomas Mitchell as the wise if occasionally drunken doctor, C. Aubrey Smith as the priest (the only character to have a truly tragic end), John Carradine as a sadistic prison warden, and Cowan in the relatively small role of the captain who, like Astor, is sympathetic to Hall but not in a position to help much. During the first half of the film, there are some nice, ominous scene endings in which the actors leave but the camera remains as we see and hear the wind pick up in strength. Highly recommended; hopefully it will someday be issued on DVD with appropriate extras. [TCM]

No comments: