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TORRID ZONE (director: William Keighley; screenwriters: Richard Macaulay/Jerry Wald; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Jack Killifer; music: Adoph Deutsch; cast: James Cagney (Nick Butler), Pat O’Brien (Steve Case), Ann Sheridan (Lee Donley), Andy Devine (Wally Davis), Helen Vinson (Gloria Anderson), George Tobias (Rosario La Mata), Jerome Cowan (Bob Anderson), George Reeves (Sancho), Victor Kilian (Carlos), Frank Puglia (Rodriguez), Paul Porcasi (Garcia, Hotel Bar Proprietor), Grady Sutton (Sam the Secretary). Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mark Hellinger; Warner Bros.; 1940)
“It’s a good example of a lively Warner Brothers film, where the ensemble studio cast have a great chemistry together.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Keighley (“Bullets or Ballots”/”Each Dawn I Die”/”The Fighting 69th”) helms this entertaining steamy, breezy and quick-paced action thriller comedy. It’s a good example of a lively Warner Brothers film, where the ensemble studio cast have a great chemistry together. Writers Richard Macaulay and Jerry Wald supply a snappy dialogue that’s filled with double-entendres and sharp quips. It’s set in the jungle of Honduras on a large banana plantation. James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, a familiar team, give their usual sharp performances, but newcomer Ann Sheridan, labeled “The Oomph Girl!”, steals the pic from the old pros in her first starring role. It might remind some of Red Dust. James Cagney, once described the film as “The Front Page among the bananas.”

Gruff plantation overseer Steve Case (Pat O’Brien), of the giant Baldwin Fruit Company, finds down-and-out nightclub singer Lee Donley (Ann Sheridan) in the local port of Puerto Agular saloon singing “My Caballero” and orders the hotel/bar proprietor, Garcia (Paul Porcasi), to fire her because he believes a white woman American singer will cause trouble in this Central American port city. Later when Case catches the sultry Lee cheating in cards, he has the bought off weaselly police chief, Rodriguez (Frank Puglia), jail her and arrange for her to be shipped back to the States the next day. Case also orders the execution of local revolutionary Rosario La Mata (George Tobias), but he escapes after befriending Lee and begins recruiting in the jungle revolutionaries from among the banana workers.

Meanwhile trainloads of bananas grow soft because the effete foreman Anderson (Jerome Cowan) is incompetent. Since Case fired the previous foreman who always got the bananas in on time, the tough-cookie Nick Butler (James Cagney), because of his impertinence and extra-curricular affair with his wife, he decides to forget those indiscretions and woos Nick through trickery and blackmail to return to his job for two weeks and a big bonus. Nick arrives at the plantation on the same fruit train as Lee, who is hiding from Case and the police, and the sparks fly between the two wise guys. Nick hides the streetwise Lee at the plantation. The rest of the hokum film is just ordinary B-film material, as far as the story goes. But the wise-talking Sheridan and the gangster-like Cagney, make you forget how ordinary things are with their likable and colorful performances. At one point, Cagney takes Sheridan in his arms and says, “You and your 24-karat oomph!”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”