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SINNERS IN PARADISE (director: James Whale; screenwriter: story by Harold Buckley/Harold Buckley; cinematographer: George Robinson; editor: Maurice Wright; music: Charles Previn/Oliver Wallace; cast: Madge Evans (Anne Wesson), John Boles (Jim Taylor), Bruce Cabot (Robert ‘The Torpedo’ Malone), Marion Martin (Iris Compton), Gene Lockhart (State Senator John P. Corey), Charlotte Wynters (Thelma Chase), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Franklin Sydney), Milburn Stone (T. L. Honeyman), Morgan Conway (Harrison Brand), Donald Barry (Jessup, cabin boy), Willie Fung (Ping); Runtime: 63; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ken Goldsmith; Alpha; 1938)
“Though the story is trite, Whale keeps it lurid enough to hold one’s interest.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a remake of a silent film of the same name. In the late 1930s James Whale (“Showboat”/”Frankenstein”/”The Man in the Iron Mask) was no longer Universal’s favorite prestige director and they assigned him lesser films, like this low-budget B-film programmer. Whale, being the great director, still made these films entertaining. The story and screenplay is by Harold Buckley.

A China-bound seaplane goes down after catching fire in a storm. Eight passengers and the cranky cabin boy (Donald Barry) leap to safety before the plane explodes in the Pacific Ocean and the crew dies. The survivors wash up on a remote uncharted island, some 500 miles off the China mainland and find that the fertile island is occupied by a mysterious American beachcomber named Jim Taylor (John Boles) and Ping (Willie Fung), his loyal Chinese man-servant.

Taylor is a man with a dark secret, and is not hospitable to his mostly unpleasant and unwelcomed guests (who are either social misfits or elite snobs or unhappy idealists). The passenger survivors all have their secrets: Anne Wesson (Madge Evans) is a nurse trying to escape a loveless marriage by returning to China alone to work for the American Red Cross; Robert ‘The Torpedo’ Malone (Bruce Cabot) is a mobster who robbed the mob of $150,000 and is on-the-run; Iris Compton (Marion Martin) took a powder after being an insider witness for a D.A. investigating racketeers; Thelma Chase (Charlotte Wynters) is the heiress factory owner from Long Island, whose workers are on strike and she’s getting away from the heat; T. L. Honeyman (Milburn Stone) and Harrison Brand (Morgan Conway) are rival unscrupulous munitions dealers who share the same ugly personality; State Senator John P. Corey (Gene Lockhart) is the pompous, know-it-all and corrupt politician; and the widow Mrs. Franklin Sydney (Nana Bryant) is going to Shanghai to search for her long-lost son.

The guests cause trouble when they demand Taylor take them on his sailboat to the mainland, but haggle when they learn the boat only has room to take five survivors and Ping to steer it. A tense showdown ensues, that results in a murder and a forced ride on the boat with tragic results. Meanwhile, back at the island, a romance develops between the nurse and Taylor, who is revealed as a surgeon on-the-run.

Though the story is trite, Whale keeps it lurid enough to hold one’s interest.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”