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Erich von Stroheim,
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Rita La Roy
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A seaplane departs for China. On board are a nurse escaping a loveless marriage to do work with refugees, a woman hoping to surprise her estranged son, a wealthy heiress trying to distance herself from labor troubles, an oily politician, a moll and a mobster fleeing the wrath of the gangs they've double-crossed, two rival munitions salesmen out to cash in on the misery of war, and a fresh-faced young steward. Caught in a course-altering storm, a crash-landing destroys the plane, kills the plane's officers, and tosses the surviving passengers into the sea. They are washed ashore on an isolated island inhabited solely by mysteriously reclusive Mr. Taylor and his servant, Ping. Until Taylor decides if, how and when he will allow them to take his boat back to China for help, this disparate band must work together, change their self-centered ways, and examine their motives for wanting to escape from the island and their pasts. Written by
Sister Grimm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I was very much looking forward to this one, mainly due to Michael's favorable comments but, while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I also thought the material unworthy of its director (who happens to be one of my all-time favorites)! Featuring multiple characters (though the cast itself is rather second-rate!), the film evokes memories of GRAND HOTEL (1932) and LOST HORIZON (1937) but also looks forward to FIVE CAME BACK (1939) and STAGECOACH (1939). FIVE CAME BACK is especially comparable in view of its plot similarities but, while probably no more elaborate a production, that RKO film - directed by John Farrow and featuring one of the best performances by Maltese actor Joseph Calleia - is considerably more compelling and a much better film in every way.
Given Whale's customary lavishness, then, it's distressing to see how his fortunes dwindled at the change in the studio's management and the miniscule budget and B-movie status afforded SINNERS IN PARADISE hurts the film considerably! Still, the opening scenes (featuring an uncredited cameo by Whale regular Dwight Frye) are nicely handled and the airplane crash, while an obvious model, is nonetheless exciting. However, once on the island (and the introduction of its 'master' John Boles, who's miscast but not bad), the film kind of stops dead in its tracks; while it provides a couple of villains, there is no real menace a' la the headhunters closing in on the stranded party in FIVE CAME BACK - and the film merely relies on the obligatory if tepid romance (which mainly revolves around two separate couples) and some resistible comic relief to prod the story along (though Gene Lockhart's typical fooling in the role of a pompous politician is amiable enough)!
Having so far watched four non-horror films by James Whale, it's interesting to note that two were set in stylish surroundings and the other two in exotic locales; still, while equally ramshackle, I found GREEN HELL (1940) - due, in no small measure, to its remarkable cast - to be a lot more satisfying than this one!
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