(director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriters: from the book “Hell’s Playground” by Ida Vera Simonton/Leon Gordon; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Frederick Y. Smith; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Hedy Lamarr (Tondelayo), Walter Pidgeon (Harry Witzel), Bramwell Fletcher (Wilbur Ashley), Frank Morgan (Doctor), Richard Carlson (Langford), Reginald Owen (Skipper), Henry O’Neill (Rev. Roberts); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Victor Saville; MGM; 1942)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Richard Thorpe directs this antiquated romantic drama set in Africa during WW11. It was adapted to the screen from the play of Leon Gordon, who based it on the pulp novel “Hell’s Playground” by Ida Vera Simonton. There was a silent British version in 1929 with Leslie Faber and Gypsy Rhouma, a few months later sound was added.
Hedy Lamarr stars in one her best recognizable roles as Tondelayo, the half-breed African native girl who is a temptress on a British plantation outpost where all the rubber planters agonize over the oppressive heat and her scheming ways to attract them.
The trite plot involves a newly arrived rubber-plantation manager Langford (Richard Carlson) fallen to disgrace and madness by not listening to the advice of the veterans at the plantation and falling for native girl Hedy to the point where he marries her. He was warned by local English magistrate Witzel (Walter Pidgeon), someone in the country since 1910, not to go against custom and the anti-miscegenation laws. Fooling around with her is dangerous, but marrying her is insane. But Langford mistakes Witzel’s advice and thinks he’s only jealous, so out of spite he plunges head ‘last’ into uncharted territory.
The unreliable Hedy, garbed in a slinky sarong, soon regrets married life, just as Langford has his belly full of his wife’s possessiveness and material cravings for silk and other trinkets. She tries to lure Witzel, who rejects her, then schemes to slowly poison her hubby during a bout of fever.
It’s rubbish. Best watched as a campy curio and something to be laughed at for its overt old-fashioned racism and the pigeon English way Hedy converses. Fans of Hedy always refer to this film as an example of how hot she was in her day, while ignoring her wooden acting in favor of her Hollywood glamor appeal.
REVIEWED ON 2/17/2004 GRADE: D