Sunday, August 19, 2007


This was made before America entered WWII, but while the studios were churning out lots of propagandistic military stories in anticipation of our involvement in the war. Even in 1940, this story of buddies who wind up rivals for the same girl must have seemed awfully cliched, and unfortunately, the B-aspects of the production don’t allow anything about this version to stand out. The leading men, both a bit past their prime, are Richard Dix and Chester Morris. An opening crawl tells us that the story is set in the past, when foreign countries often looked to American armed forces to help shore up law and order in the face of revolution and lawlessness. Dix is a Marine in an unnamed Central American country, part of a force trying to root out a shadowy revolutionary bandit, El Vengador, who, with his band of men, has just pulled off a raid on a cocoa plantation owned by Lucille Ball. Morris is a lieutenant who has just arrived in the country and is bunking with Dix. The two get along well until Ball comes between them. She has been dating Dix, so Morris' initial flirtation falls flat, but after an old flame of Dix's (Steffi Duna) arrives in the area, Ball decides to give Morris a whirl. The romance and adventure plotlines come together rather predictably, though the climactic battle, with a band of Marines trapped in a small town by the bandits, is quite exciting. I especially like the way that Dix, buzzing the area in a plane, gets messages back and forth to the men on the ground, with notes wrapped around wrenches that are delivered ingeniously. In the supporting cast are John Eldredge as Ball's foreman (and given his sinister looks from the get-go, it's not a spoiler to say that he's not what he seems), Dick Hogan and Horace McMahon as Marine buddies, and Kirby Grant (later Sky King on TV) as a lieutenant. Ball is, as usual in this stage of her career, a bit too low-key to be effective (see YOU CAN’T FOOL YOUR WIFE, a B-comedy made the same year); Morris and Hogan come off best, with Dix too old and sluggish to be believable as a man who is romantically entangled with two young women. [TCM]

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