Monday, October 29, 2007


U.S. government agent John Archer, his valet (Mantan Moreland), and his pilot (Dick Purcell), who are looking for a missing American admiral, are forced to crash land in a jungle on a Caribbean island. They are taken in by a Viennese doctor (Henry Victor) who tells them he has no radio and that they'll have to hang around a few days to catch a boat. The household is a strange one: Victor's wife (Patricia Stacey) is in some kind of mysterious trance state, his cook (Madame Sul-Te-Wan) is a voodoo practitioner, his butler Momba (Leigh Whipper) is a rather creepy fellow, and his flirtatious maid (Marguerite Whitten) convinces Moreland that the island is crawling with zombies. Victor and his niece (Joan Woodbury) are trying to bring Stacey out of her own zombie-like state; we discover later that she was the unfortunate victim of a "soul transmigration" ritual. We also discover that Victor is a Nazi spy (not a big surprise given his heavy accent and evil look) who has the missing admiral in his torture chamber. A "ghost lady" pops in and out of a room, two of our heroes get temporarily zombified, and another transmigration experiment is attempted before things get straightened out.

It's amazing how much a good, clean print can do for a Poverty Row B-film, and the print of this Monogram film shown on TCM is excellent. No one will mistake this for a classic, but once you realize that, despite the creepy sounding plot summary above, this is really an "old dark house" comedy along the lines of Bob Hope's GHOST BREAKERS, it's rather entertaining. Moreland, one the foremost black comic actors of the era, does a variation on the usual "scared underling" role he was stuck in, but here, despite getting third billing, he is basically the star and he is mostly very funny. Victor, the wicked strongman in FREAKS, is good in a role intended for Bela Lugosi. The rest of the actors are adequate to the occasion, except for Whitten who, despite being alluring, gives a very wooden performance, though she does get the funniest line: when Moreland scarfs down several pieces of pie, she calls him the "most pious man I ever met." John Archer is the father of Anne Archer. Oddly, this film actually got an Oscar nomination for its score, which, while marginally better than the usual B-movie score, is hardly memorable. [TCM]

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