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|Index||16 reviews in total|
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!
Sinners in Paradise (1938)
*** (out of 4)
Universal drama directed by James Whale about a plane load of people who crash on an island ran by a loner (John Boles). This one here doesn't have a very good reputation but I found it to be highly entertaining until the last fifteen minutes when things started to drag a bit. Whale's direction is right on the mark mixing some nice drama with some comedy and using the oddball characters to full effect. Boles, from Whale's Frankenstein is very good in the lead and the supporting players are good as well. The plane crash is handled with a master's touch. Madge Evans and Bruce Cabot co-star.
James Whale directs this unremarkable story of survival (sort of). After a sea plane with several passengers crashes into the ocean near an uncharted island, a man living there must decide whether or not to ferry the survivors back to civilization since he's wanted for murder in China. This is a B movie version of what would be an all star movie of the week on TV. Its not bad, its just been done to death thanks to Gilligan's Island and uncreative TV executives. Once the plane crashes and we get to the island the film is reasonably enjoyable since the story is in motion and all of the clichés are allowed to play out. Well acted by a cast of veterans you'll know whats going to happen as well as the cast knows how to play their well worn parts. Its worth a look if you run across it on TV just don't expect high art even from James Whale
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A group of totally different people on a plane to China are stranded on
a desert Island during a storm, where they meet the Island's only two
inhabitants, handsome Jim Boles ("Stella Dallas") and the as-always
comical Willie Fung. They include slimy politician Gene Lockhart,
tough-as-nails Marion Martin, tarot card reader Nana Bryant, rich
business woman Charlotte Wynters, and nurse Madge Evans, as well as
several business men of a rather shady nature. Boles doesn't want them
there, and forces them to make their own way. Several of the men
finally make their way off the Island on Boles' boat with the reluctant
(but formidable) Mr. Fung, who may seem like he may not have what it
takes to stand up to them, but ultimately he does. Boles, in the
meantime, falls for nurse Madge, while tough-as-nails Ms. Martin lets
her guard down with an ex-con who isn't all that bad, either. It turns
out that Boles has a reason for being away from society, which ties in
with another one of the castaways.
James Whale was one of the best directors at Universal in the 30's. He had an eye for detail and could always be counted on to add a lavishness to his films not usually found at Universal during its day as one of the lower "A" studios. By 1936, Universal was prospering thanks to the Deanna Durbin musicals, although the horror genre of the early 30's was beginning to fade thanks to the legion of decency and the production code. While there may be some cheap special effects in this film, there are some riveting action sequences, particularly the plane crash and the ship fight between two men and Mr. Fung at sea. Like "Gilligan's Island", there are constant jokes about "fish for dinner again?". This is a handsome "B" film to look at, if one can get past the story flaws that aren't quite plausible.
As far as the cast is concerned, Boles is a bland hero, and Evans does best as she can with her not well defined character. She has a great scene at the beginning telling her husband (Alan Edwards) at the airport that she is leaving him, but after that, her spunk all but disappears. Ironically, Ms. Wynters resembles Tina Louise ("Gilligan Island's" Ginger) to some degree, but doesn't get anything really substantial to do but act snooty and above the rest of the riffraff she is unfortunately stuck with. Gene Lockhart is insufferable, as usual, typecast as he was in many films, as a shady politician and businessman. He would be doing roles like this well into the 40's. I always confuse him with another similar character actor of the era, Grant Mitchell. They were never given the chance to expand their portrayal of these characters by making them more sympathetic or understandable like a Charles Coburn or Edward Arnold would. I'd hate to think that people like Lockhart's character are being elected into public office today, let alone when this movie was made.
The one actor who stands out to me is Marion Martin, who is so lovably tough that I bet it would be fun to try and melt the exterior to find the warmth inside hidden by years of disappointments. Actors like Ms. Martin, Barbara Pepper and Iris Adrian (the lower class Joan Blondells and Ann Sheridans of their era) were delightful even with their bit parts in films of the 30's and 40's, and deserved better than what they got. Audiences had to wait until the 50's when Shelley Winters made these type of characters the focus of films like "South Sea Woman" and "Larceny". I didn't care much for the ruthless businessmen (particularly the one carrying a satchel of cash). Having pompous Reynolds representing the seedy side of high society was enough for me. Some people are quite offended today by the typecasting of Willie Fung, but he is probably more well defined and consistent in his actions here, making him more believable than his characters in other films I've seen him in. I wish there was more of the always lovable Nana Bryant, playing a role similar to Elisabeth Risdon's in "Five Came Back" and Beaulah Bondi in "Back From Eternity".
In conclusion, at 63 minutes, "Sinners in Paradise" is the perfect 30's double bill fare that audiences clamored for in the late depression years, but would forget about seeing until it popped up on TV years later. It is fun to watch for some campy lines, a few memorable performances, and some attractive Island scenery. I'm glad to find that it is on DVD after seeing it at the Film Forum in New York as part of a James Whale triple bill.
An airplane sets out for China but doesn't make it: struck down in a
storm, it crashes at sea and the passengers wash ashore on an
apparently uninhabited island, where they are seemingly without hope of
rescue or escape
until they discover John Boles, a mysterious American
living on the island in relative luxury. He has a boatbut for reasons
of his own, refuses to let the castaways use it to escape.
Boles is solid as the island's primary inhabitant; he has run away from a murder charge, accompanied by a servant (Willie Fung) whose loyalty is complete. His uninvited visitors are a diverse group of characters on this journey for a variety of reasonssome pursuing shady business deals, others running away from personal issues. On the island, events develop and allegiances form; we learn, in bits and pieces, the stories behind some of the main characters.
Boles strikes up a relationship with Madge Evans, an unhappy wife heading to China to escape via a nursing career. Gene Lockhart is a blustery senator and Charlotte Wynters is an heiressthese two stuck up characters are quickly elected by the others to perform the most menial chores.
Marion Martin gives the best performance as a tough young woman on the run from life. "This is pretty funny," she comments on reaching shore and looking around, "I was trying to run away from a nervous breakdown." She pairs up with Bruce Cabot, who has a stack of stolen money (useless on an island) and a pistol (that may come in handy).
The plane crash scene that opens the action is very well donea great example of a director creating chaos and excitement despite obviously limited resources. Otherwise, the production is solid but nothing out of the ordinary...if there is such a thing as a run of the mill tropical island, this would be it.
Overall, it's entertaining if not great. The characters are interesting but never develop much; the performances are solid; the plot moves fast but rarely surprises.
This film Sinners In Paradise was an interesting find. It's a
combination of The Lost Horrizon, Stagecoach, The Admirable Crichton
with a bit of Gilligan's Island thrown in.
An interesting mix of people are passengers on a sea plane bound for China which crashes in the Pacific and the surviving passengers plus a steward from the crew are tossed into the sea. They make it to a tropical island where John Boles and his servant Willie Fung have set up house. He's not a very hospitable host and forces these people to work for their keep. Some of them like Senator Gene Lockhart and heiress Charlotte Wynters are not used to manual labor. In this new society that is forming on the island they're at the bottom of the pecking order and resent it.
The rest of the survivors include steward Don Barry from the crew, recent divorcée Madge Evans bound for China to serve as a missionary, mob hit man Bruce Cabot, working class girl brassy Marion Martin, widow Nana Bryant looking to join her son in Shanghai, and a pair of munitions manufacturers Milburn Stone and Morgan Conway looking to make some money off the various wars going in China. It's quite an interesting group of castaways here on Boles' Island.
The iconoclastic Boles is a man of mystery. Their host has good and sufficient reason for not wanting to return to civilization. In point of fact those who want to get back the most are the ones that civilization could do without.
Lockhart is the most interesting character of the bunch. He can't figure out why a natural born 'leader' and man of the people isn't just handed responsibility to lead the castaways. He's not a great advertisement for our political leadership.
James Whale directed this film and it was a reunion of sorts with Boles who was in the cast of his most acclaimed work, the original Frankenstein. Although by now Whale was directing B films and Sinners In Paradise is definitely in that category, it's still an interesting piece of work and worthy of more than one look.
While there are a few amusing moments in this film, the odd mixture of characters who find themselves awash on an Island in the Pacific really don't have much chemistry. They are mostly wrapped up in their own egos and forced to do some work or they will never see home again. There is a strange Chinese man, loyal to his master, who is incredibly confusing. He has this goofy laugh that comes at odd times. It grates on the brain. There are bad guys and windbags and loose women and a nice woman. There is an islander who can't go to China because he is wanted for a murder there. He has the only boat and navigation skills to get the people off the island. Everyone stays true to their colors and it rolls toward a predictable conclusion. I found Gene Lockart's politician to be utterly insufferable. They should have drowned him right away.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Getting set to write my 800th IMDb review,I decided to search around on
Amazon UK for titles by directing auteur James Whale.Getting near the
end of the listings for his famous Horror movies,I was surprised to
stumble upon a near-forgotten Adventure Drama that Whale's had
made,which led to me getting ready to pay a visit to paradise.
Desperate to each get away from their troubled lives,a group of people get on board a luxury sea plane to China.On the way to China,the plane gets caught in the middle of a tropic storm,which causes it to crash in the ocean.Barely surviving the crash,the handful of survivors spot an island near the wreck,and decide to swim to the shore.
Reaching the island,the survivors start to fear that they will not be found,due to the island appearing to be completely deserted.Searching round the island,the survivors are shocked to discover 2 inhibitions:one called Jim Taylor and the other one being his loyal servant Ping.Placing their hopes on him helping them to get off the island,Taylor reveals that he has other plans,as he uncovers each of the survivors hidden pasts.
View on the film:
Filmed when the change in studio head had led to him losing his main supporters,directing auteur James Whale is only about to show the edge of his past, eye-catching, stylised canvas.Whale & cinematographer George Robinson (who had worked with Whale on the interesting The Road Back) cleverly use a minimal amount of flames to create a scorching hot atmosphere on the island.Despite working on a low budget,Whale's is impressively still able to continue on some of the main themes featured in his work,thanks to the survivors trying to keep their shady upper-class backgrounds hidden,by each giving themselves a "humble" appearance on the island,which the lower-class Taylor is able to reveal as a facade.
Taking a scatter-shot approach in their focus of the island residences ,the screenplay by Harold Buckley/Louis Stevens/ Lester Cole & Robert Lee Johnson is disappointingly unable to give each of the characters "their moment" to shine,which whilst allowing Jim Taylor to stand out as a boo-hiss baddie,leads to most of the survivors not being given any distinctive features.Along with a fun cameo from Dwight Frye, John Boles gives a marvellous performance in his reunion with Whale,as Boles curls Taylor's lips on every order that he barks to his fellow islanders,as the crash survivors discover that this is an island far from paradise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And as far as I can tell, this title would better have served for one
of those sexploitation flicks of the era, like "Escort Girl", "Sex
Madness" or "Slaves in Bondage". Except for the two munitions salesmen
who tried to take out old Ping (Willie Fung), there wasn't a whole lot
of sinning going on, even between the gangster (Bruce Cabot) and his
moll Iris Compton (Marion Martin). It's actually pretty bland once the
story gets going, as survivors of a plane crash in the Pacific try to
figure out how they'll all get back home. Not exactly "Lord of the
Flies", even though Gene Lockhart takes on the obligatory self
important blowhard role as a state senator who tries to put himself in
charge but is unceremoniously rebuffed. I don't know anything about the
lead actor James Boles, but it looks like he was 'B' films' answer to
Clark Gable; I can see how Madge Evans' character fell for him.
Notwithstanding the inevitable comparisons to "Gilligan's Island", this one is a generally breezy little number that's entertaining enough in it's roughly one hour run time. I was somewhat intrigued by the idea of burning one's money in a place where it literally had no value, and that concept alone gives the picture a bonus point for originality. Otherwise it plays out fairly typically, but with a cast that makes it interesting to watch.
I don't understand why this film was added to the Dark Crimes 50-film
pack -- it's not a "dark crime" film. This film is a kinda cute
castaway production... it's sometimes dramatic and other times it's
This is a basic story of a plane going down and the survivors are near an island to seek refuge there and hoping a rescue ship will come nearby. The difference is there is a doctor criminal on the island with his helper Ping. This doctor criminal has a boat and it's up to him if he wants them to use it or not.
As I said earlier, the film seesaws from drama to comedy from scene to scene which is something I've seen before in the older films. This is one okay - nothing to brag about.
The only bonus to this film is a cameo appearance from Dwight Frye right at the very beginning of the film.
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