John Boles stars in SINNERS IN PARADISE, directed by James Whale for Universal Pictures.

Sinners in Paradise (1938, James Whale)

It’s James Whale’s “Gilligan’s Island,” only with more rear screen projection, as a plane crash in the Pacific brings a varied bunch together on a tropical island. It’s a boring sixty-five minutes–the script’s real stagy, with a two or three week (there’s a lot of problems with time) break in the middle, with the second half establishing all the changes instead of showing them occur. And Whale’s not much of a director here. As good a job as he does inside (even though almost all of Sinners in Paradise was shot on a sound stage), the pseudo-exteriors don’t work. It’s all too goofy, with labeled straw huts and everyone having changes of clothes after swimming from a burning plane.

The movie’s tolerable due more to geniality than anything else, though some expectation is laid throughout for the ending, especially in regards to the future of John Boles’s character. Boles is on the island when the plane crash survivors arrive and, in a strange string of scenes, refuses to help them. At that point–though the time on the plane itself is misspent–Sinners is still moderately well-paced. The script hasn’t gotten around to speeding past all the interesting moments. Of course, the viewer learns Boles’s backstory, but the characters never do, which is an awkward choice, but it does give Whale a cheap way out at the end.

Boles is visibly worn out–and Whale’s awkward close-ups, a holdover from before sound design, don’t do him any favors. Madge Evans is okay as his love interest, but her character never gets to be developed either. Charlotte Wynters is similarly okay as an heiress and Gene Lockhart is funny as a possibly corrupt senator. Marion Martin is annoying and the rest of the cast is either serviceable or bad.

Except for Bruce Cabot, who has fun–shirtless almost all time, which is never explained either–as a gangster with a heart of gold.

Where the movie’s most interesting is in its politics. It’s anti-war profiteering and pro-union. There’s a lot of subtle socialism in the exposition (co-writer Lester Cole was one of the Hollywood Ten), not to mention the inference true democracy and the senator’s version of it are quite different.

It’s a strange b-movie, if only because of the script (at times, even though Whale isn’t directing it right, the dialogue is excellent), not to mention the political elements. And it doesn’t hurt, even though Boles’s performance is a tad broad, his chemistry with Evans is palpable.

And who can get down on a movie with an uncredited Dwight Frye bit part?

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Harold Buckley, Louis Stevens and Lester Cole, based on a story by Buckley; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Maurice Wright; music by Charles Previn and Oliver Wallace; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Madge Evans (Anne Wesson), John Boles (Jim Taylor), Bruce Cabot (Robert 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), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Jessup), Morgan Conway (Harrison Brand), Willie Fung (Ping) and Dwight Frye (Marshall).

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