Friday, November 19, 2010


Louis Wolheim is a rough-and-tough, pug-ugly schooner captain who reluctantly agrees to take a soft-spoken minister (Ian Keith) and his lovely wife (Mary Astor, at left) down the California coast when they miss their ship. A drunken Wolheim locks Astor in her cabin and tries to take advantage of her, but she calls him an animal and he leaves, disgusted with himself. When Keith returns to the cabin, we discover that he is really a crook named Smiley and she's a shady lady known as Frisco Kitty, and they're on the run from the law for a heist he pulled in Seattle. When they stop at a port city, Wolheim is a changed man and apologizes profusely to Astor, who comes to feel some affection for the gruff, lonely man. When the captain gets ready to leave, Keith sabotages the engine in order to keep him there until the heat dies down, but the crew thinks that Wolheim is staying on purpose because he's sweet on Astor. Soon Wolheim finds out the truth about the two and ends up defending Astor against a drunken Keith (in a scene involving one of the worst thrown punches ever in a movie). The cops finally catch up with Keith and, in one of the stranger melodrama endings, the ugly guy actually gets the girl. This is mainly of interest for the presence of Mary Astor in one of her early talkies. She's good, though Keith is actually more impressive as he moves back and forth between being a goody-goody man of the cloth and a thuggish criminal. Wolheim, who also directed, is OK but basically seems like a second-string Wallace Beery; he had a long career in the silents, but died of cancer at 55 just months after making this film. Comic actor Hugh Herbert is fine as the first mate; he's still basically comic relief but he's more subtle here than in most of his later roles. Much of the film is slow and stagy, despite the fact that several scenes were shot on exterior locations. [TCM]

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