Tuesday, March 20, 2012


A small group of people board a plane bound for China, run into heavy weather, and crash in the ocean. Most of them make it to a small island and hope to be found by a passing ship. Madge Evans, who is going to work at a Red Cross hospital, is the only one who doesn’t seem to have a secret agenda. Charlotte Wynters is traveling under an assumed name, though everyone seems to know who she is: an heiress who is running away from union problems at her factories. Two competing weapon makers and a senator (Gene Lockhart) are trying to sell arms to China. Tough moll Marion Martin is hiding out so she can’t testify at a trial. Gangster Bruce Cabot is on the run with thousands of dollars. An older woman (Nana Bryant) is heading to Shanghai to find her son whom she hasn't heard from in a year. The group quickly discovers that they are not alone: John Boles and his Chinese manservant are living there, by choice apparently. He informs them that the island is hundreds of miles away from any shipping lanes or air routes and, even though he has a small boat, he has no intention of taking them anywhere on it, so they need to learn to get along. Clearly, Boles has a secret, too. Some members of the group don't mind staying on the island, and they quickly set up a system of building huts and making food, but others, including the munitions men, will try anything to get off.

This forgotten, hard-to-find movie is essentially director James Whale's version of Gilligan's Island, and is much better than most critics give it credit for. Boles (who is usually a bit too wooden for my taste) and Cabot (at left) are very good in the male leads, and the fact that Cabot is shirtless for much of the film is an added bonus. Martin, whose work I am unfamiliar with, is suitably brassy as the blond moll, and strikes some sparks with Cabot. The snaky ways some of the plotlines get entangled are clever: Boles has a connection with Bryant's son, and the heiress with labor problems threatens to go "on strike" because she doesn't like the work schedule. Willie Fung adopts a ridiculously broad stereotype as the manservant, but he gets to engage in some heroics near the end—though the actual staging of the heroics is inept. Boles has a cockatoo which gets in a couple of cute lines; when one character says something bitchy to another character, the cockatoo says, "Meow!" Some critics seem to dislike this because it's not up to Whale's standards, and while it's true that the direction is workmanlike, it's still an enjoyable B-picture. Pictured at top are Lockhart, Wynters, Boles, Martin, and Cabot. [YouTube]

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