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Alcoholic newspaperman Steve Bramley boards the San Capador for a restful cruise, hoping to quit drinking and begin writing a book. Also on board are Steve's friend Schulte, a private detective hoping to nab criminal Danny Checkett with a fortune in stolen bonds. Steve begins drinking, all the while observing the various stories of other passengers on board, several of whom turn out not to be who they seem to be. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Right after the stern line is cast off, showing us the ship's starboard side is at dockside, the Captain (Walter Connolly) orders the helm, "Hard to starboard" - which would send the ship right back into the dock. See more »
...and this is the final entry in the filmography of one of those people - John Gilbert - so legend has it. This was Gilbert's last film, having been released by MGM just the year before after a prolonged and ignominious fall from the pinnacle of fame over a four year period, starting with his ill-fated first talkie starring role in "His Glorious Night".
The captain (Walter Connally) certainly hates being captain here, though it is not clear so much that he hates the sea. However, he certainly is bored with life in general and his job in particular and wants his steward Layton (Leon Errol) to bring him juicy tidbits about what is going on between the passengers on his ship. The captain never passes up an opportunity to abuse the poor steward. However, the captain is really not the center of attention here at all. The emphasis is on the different passengers and how they interact. Central to the theme is John Gilbert as Steve Bramley, a writer who is losing a battle with alcohol, partly because he won't even try. His constant drinking hijinks are supposed to be funny, but in the context of what was going on in Gilbert's life it just turns out to be poignant.
Actually pretty funny is Victor McLaglen as a private eye who is after a pair who have stolen some bonds. The private eye begins to fall for the female half of the thieving team. A wealthy matron casts a romantic eye at the male half of the thieving pair although he is at least twenty years younger than she. On the dramatic side there is a verbally and quite possibly physically abusive wealthy older man who has wed a girl from the other side of the tracks and won't let her forget it. Columbia always liked lots of mayhem in their 30's comedies, so joining the fray is The Three Stooges as a trio of musicians and Donald Meek as a character whose only point in this film seems to be his beard, which looks entirely fake but is not. That beard captures the imagination of several of the passengers in the way of pranks and bets.
Some have called this a take on the "Grand Hotel" formula, but it isn't sewed together quite that neatly. Also, note that although this film is clearly past the precode era it has plenty of precode devices oddly left in. Although this movie was thoroughly entertaining, Gilbert's performance haunted me not only because of what he was playing - an unrepentant alcoholic - but how he played it. If you look at Gilbert's past talkies he was thoroughly engaged in the parts he was playing. Here he seems tired and worn and just taking everything that he observes as a joke, as if nothing really matters to him at this point. Perhaps he was directed to play it that way, but it did make me sad. The ending did make me glad for Gilbert's character, as there did seem to be at least one constant in his life upon which he could depend.
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