Friday, April 12, 2013

THE SEA BAT (1930)

Our story takes place on Portuga Island in the West Indies where there is, we are told, "the weird chant of voodoo worship" by night and "the weird industry of sponge fishing" by day. We meet a motley group of rough-edged men who work in the boats and live together in a large barracks. The banes of their existence are the "sea bats," the shark-sized manta rays that frequent the waters. Lovely Nina gives her handsome brother Carlo a charm to ward off the ray, but instead he winds up wearing a cross given to him by a priest, and when Carlo is killed in a ray attack, Nina blames his embrace of Christian symbolism; she turns to voodoo ritual and offers a reward to any man who will catch and kill the sea bat. What she doesn't know (but we do) is that the real reason Carlo died is because the slimy Juan, who resented Carlo for standing in the way of him wooing Nina, put a rock on his line so he couldn't make it up to the ship when the ray attacked. Meanwhile, a new priest, the Reverend Sims, arrives on the island, and Nina expresses her resentment of his faith. What she doesn't know (but again, we do) is that Sims is actually a criminal on the run from Devil's Island. Slowly, Sims and Nina fall in love, and Sims wants to take off with her to start over, but Juan (and the sea bat) may put a kink in their plans.

This early talkie is interesting for a few reasons: 1) Boris Karloff (pre-FRANKENSTEIN) has a small role; 2) the heroine (Raquel Torres, pictured above) spends a chunk of the movie wearing only a very wet and sheer blouse—this was in the pre-Code era when hints of nudity weren't unheard of; 3) the ray attack early in the movie feels a lot like the shark attack at sea in JAWS. Charles Bickford is only OK as Sims, Torres a little bit better, but John Miljan is fine as the slimy Juan, and Nils Asther is very good as Carlo, though he's killed off fairly early. Many reviews of this film refer to Asther and Torres and lovers, but, though their scenes together do have a strange intensity, I'm fairly certain that it is made clear that they are brother and sister. Memorable line: Bickford, seeing Torres dancing in a voodoo ritual: "What kind of white girl are you?" [TCM]

No comments: