Thursday, October 25, 2012


Isle of Fury is based on the Somerset Maugham novel The Narrow Corner, but if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the Maugham book then you’ll definitely be disappointed. The only thing that Isle of Fury has in common with Narrow Corner is that both feature an island. That’s basically where the similarities end. Still, I kind of enjoyed this island adventure.

The film opens with Val (Bogart) trying to marry a somewhat pensive Lucille (Margaret Lindsay) on an island in the Pacific during a terrible storm. The wedding is interrupted (almost suspenseful so) several times and immediately after they are declared married, Val rushes off to help the passengers of a ship caught in the storm. The only people saved are the ships captain (Paul Graetz) and Eric (Donald Woods). Naturally, Eric is immediately attracted to Lucille. The islands resident doctor and dispenser of wisdom Dr. Hardy (E.E. Clive) suspects that there is more to Eric than just a shipwrecked stranger. And he’s right. Turns out, Eric has been searching for Val who is wanted for murder back in the states. Val has been living on the island and has built a pearl trading business that is struggling due to the sudden refusal of the islanders to go diving. Seems that several divers have gone pearl diving and have disappeared. The islanders suspect bad mojo.

Val, with Eric and Lucille in tow, tries to convince the islanders that they’re just acting like old women and that there is nothing to fear. To prove this, Val goes diving. Unfortunately for Val there is something to fear…a giant squid! The squid pulls Val down deep causing his airline to be disconnected. Eric dives to his rescue, kills the tentacled terror, allowing the natives to dive for pearls in relative safety. Now Eric and Val are even, both having saved the others life. Eric tries to convince Lucille to leave Val and return with him to the states, telling her that she’s too young to be stuck on the island. Lucille tells Eric that, even though she’s not in love with Val, she likes him and promised her dying mother that she would someday marry Val. We’re not really sure why her mother wanted Lucille to marry Val, but hey, a promise is a promise.

Meanwhile, Val has grown fond of Eric and invites him to be a full partner in his pearl business. Eric refuses, telling Val that he’s going to leave soon. While all this is going on, Dr. Hardy has somehow figured out who Eric is and what he’s doing there. He tells Eric that Val was wrongfully accused of murder which was why he fled to the island in the first place. Eric believes him but still loves Lucille. Dr. Hardy recites the cautionary tale of David and Bathsheba which gives Eric pause. Of course in the end it all comes out in the wash. Accusations are leveled, evil islanders try to steal Val’s pearls and several people end up dead.

This is early in Bogart’s career. So early in fact that he was still relatively new to being cast as the baddie in various James Cagney gangster films.  The studios still had him testing the waters and doing a variety of roles from lawyers to dashing, non cynical love interest to WW1 pilot. Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and other famous Bogie roles were still a ways off. E.E. Clive has a lot of fun with his role as the all seeing, all knowing, wisdom and bible story dispensing Doctor. Margaret Lindsay doesn’t do much other than look worried and then flashing a nervous smile to let us know she‘s just fine. Her final decision at the end seems highly at odds with the direction that the films narrative is pushing her. The entertainment comes from seeing Bogart early in his career and seeing him play a different kind of hero than we’re used to seeing him play. The story moves quickly but with a one hour run time, it doesn’t have much choice. Still, I love watching these early thirties gems and marveling at how expedient they were in their storytelling. A lot happens in this one hour film and most of it is pretty fun to watch.

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