1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not with a bang...
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales
3 July 2004
Infernal Machine' is a suspense film with a promising set-up. It takes
place aboard a moving vehicle (an ocean liner), so we have a sense of
the characters surging forward even if the plot is becalmed. Also,
there's a clearly-established zero hour - a time bomb is set to go off
at midnight - so there ought to be a taut sensation of a race against
time. Unfortunately, after the wheels of this premise are trundled into
place, the film fizzles out.
Chester Morris plays disaffected intellectual Robert, who has a passion
for socialite Elinor (Genevieve Tobin), who is engaged to snobbish
banker Spencer (James Bell). Indigent Robert is firmly convinced that
he can persuade Elinor to ditch wealthy Spencer, if only she'll just
listen to him for a few minutes. Elinor and Spencer have booked passage
aboard the S.S. Lucerne, sailing across the Atlantic, with Elinor's
aunt as chaperone. Robert is so determined to get Elinor's attention,
he stows away aboard the ship.
This leads me to wonder about something. In movies and novels from the
days of steamship travel, fictional characters are constantly stowing
away aboard ocean liners. They board them easily, they have no
difficulty evading the crew and officers, and they seem to obtain easy
access to food and drinking water throughout the crossing ... which
lasted many days. I really wonder how many people in real life
successfully stowed away aboard a transatlantic ship and managed to get
through the entire crossing without getting caught.
Anyway, while Robert is hiding in the hold, the captain of the Lucerne
receives a radiogram from Scotland Yard. Somebody has hidden a time
bomb aboard the ship, and it's set to go off at midnight. In the course
of searching the ship for the bomb, the officers discover stowaway
Robert. They mistakenly but understandably assume he's the mad bomber.
(But why would the bomber stow away aboard a ship he's planning to blow
Now, here's where it gets stupid. Robert is so eager to get some time
with Elinor, he falsely confesses to being the bomber. He also agrees
to defuse the bomb (at the last possible moment, of course) providing
he gets some time alone with Elinor ... specifically, the 50 minutes
from 11.10pm until boom-boom time. Robert really doesn't know anything
about defusing bombs, but we figure he'll have to learn in a hurry ...
and he'll probably do a bang-up job.
Surprisingly, everybody aboard the ship agrees to this idea, except
Elinor. One by one, all the hoity-toity passengers on the Lucerne give
Elinor high-minded reasons why she should be willing to tryst with a
terrorist (as they assume Robert to be). Some of this premise is
borrowed from Guy de Maupassant's story 'Ball of Suet', with a similar
The movie sets up a very intriguing premise, but fails to pay off. The
suspense should ratchet upwards as the clock ticks towards midnight.
Instead, the movie sinks into implausibility and dodgy motivations.
Chester Morris was probably the best possible choice to star in this
uncertain film. Morris was handsome enough to be acceptable as a
standard leading man, but there was a harshness and a coarseness to his
features which made him plausible as a villiain. We find it very
plausible that the passengers and officers of the Lucerne would believe
that this man is a mad bomber, even while we accept that he isn't.
There are a few good character performances along the way, notably from
the very underrated Arthur Hohl as the captain of the Lucerne. Gawky
actress Elise Cavanna is good as one of the passengers. A 'surprise'
near the end of the film is a lot more obvious than it thinks it is. On
the way to that ending, at least we get to see some impressive set
designs. I'll rate this movie 6 out of 10. Unfortunately, all the best
things in this movie are in the early scenes: 'Infernal Machine' gets
steadily worse as it ticks towards zero hour.
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