Sunday, November 11, 2012


Charles Laughton is a submarine commander stationed at a North African base.  His considerably younger wife (Tallulah Bankhead) has a reputation as a flirt, and the violently jealous Laughton has decided that she's having an affair with his young, handsome first officer (Cary Grant), though we know that he's just a friend. Laughton arranges to eavesdrop on the two, is disappointed in the results, but still arranges for Grant to be re-assigned. After she and her husband fight—and he threatens to kill her—Bankhead goes out into the night city streets alone, is caught up in a large crowd of whirling dervish dancers and becomes disoriented. A handsome stranger (Gary Cooper) comes to her aid; the two wind up at a desert oasis and (we assume based on the fadeout after their kiss) make love. She assumes this is a one-night stand, but come to find out, Cooper is Grant's replacement on Laughton's crew. Laughton, catching on to their intimacy, becomes unhinged when he finds out that Bankhead has gone to his submarine to warn Cooper about Laughton's jealousy.  With his wife on board, Laughton orders the sub to set sail and dive, then plots to send everyone, perhaps to their doom, to the ocean floor.

This movie was Laughton's first Hollywood role and, like he did as Dr. Moreau on ISLAND OF LOST SOULS the same year, he overdoes it a bit, acting like an overfed, mischievous child. This surface exaggeration does hide the depths of his perversity, but it also leads, in both movies, to scenes which make me giggle when I don’t think I should. Bankhead is exotic looking, but too often has a glum, hangdog expression, even when she's being romanced by Cooper. Grant is fine but only has a couple of scenes, leaving Cooper, still in his lush "male ingénue" years, to be the saving grace of the movie. The climax plays out nicely, but two other scenes are even better, stylistically: Bankhead's walk through the dervishes, and the phony-looking but still lovely and romantic nighttime desert scene with Bankhead and Cooper (pictured above). [DVD]

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