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HELL’S ISLAND(director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: Maxwell Shane/unpublished story by Jack Leonard & Martin Goldsmith; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editor: Archie Marshek; cast: John Payne (Mike Cormack), Mary Murphy (Janet Martin), Francis L. Sullivan (Barzland), Arnold Moss (Paul Armand), Paul Picerni (Eduardo Martin), Edward Noriega (Inspector Pena), Walter Reed (Lawrence), Sándor Szabó (Torbig), Robert Cabal (Miguel), Pepe Hern (Lalo); Runtime: 83; producers: William H. Pine/William C. ThomasParamount; 1955)
Fine location shots in the Caribbean.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A melodramatic noir film with fine location shots in the Caribbean. Mike Cormack (John Payne) is a former assistant district attorney who after his fiancée dumps him to marry another, develops a drinking problem and is currently employed as a bouncer in a Las Vegas casino called the “Blue Diamond.”

Mike receives an odd proposition from a wheel-chair bound criminal, Barzland (Francis L. Sullivan), played by Sullivan with Sydney Greenstreet-like panache. The gangster offers Mike $5,000 to tell him where a missing ruby that is owed to him can be located, mentioning that it vanished in a plane crash in the Caribbean. The reason Mike is picked for this job is that the pilot involved in the smuggling operation, Eduardo (Picerni), married Janet Martin (Mary Murphy). She is the beautiful woman whom Mike was engaged to; because of that connection, Barzland figures he can get close to Janet to get the info needed to recover the gem.

The film is told almost exclusively in flashback-style, with a voiceover from the world-weary Mike filling us in on the details of what happened to him during the last crucial week. As the opening credits roll by we see Barzland shoot Mike, who wakes up in the hospital operating room after surgery. The police are questioning him and, in particular, are asking him about his relationship with Janet.

Mike tells about his trip to the Caribbean where he meets Janet and gets fooled by her lies again and learns that Eduardo is in jail for life, accused of killing his partner in the transportation business. Mike will later learn from Janet that Eduardo is innocent, that it was she who sabotaged the fuel gauge.

When Mike questions a cockfighter about the ruby, the cockfighter is mysteriously killed. This leads to Barzland going after Mike with his henchmen. Before Mike can escape from Barzland’s clutches, there are three dead.

Mike offers three reasons for staying put on the island: 1) He has fallen for Janet again. 2) He wants to earn the $5,000. 3) He wants to know who killed the cockfighter.

Things come to a climax when Mike meets another sleazy friend of Janet’s, Paul Armand (Moss), a merchant. They concoct a plan of prison escape for Eduardo. Mike goes along with the plan, but is surprised that when he tries to get Eduardo to escape he won’t go.

The flashback then returns to the scene of Cormack getting shot by Barzland. What wasn’t shown the first time around, now is.

John Payne’s angst and disgust with life reaches a point in the story, where he realizes he can’t slide any further downhill than he has (Like Morrison’s song: I’m so down, it looks like up to me). Payne has lost all sense of self-esteem by falling again for the beautiful but treacherous Mary Murphy. We hear in his voiceover the details of his blind love while he is on the operating table, and when he walks out of the hospital he is seen with a slight smile indicating that he is now a new man– he can see again.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”