Sinners in Paradise

Director: James Whale

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

James Whale completists will have an interest in Sinners in Paradise (1938), but any expectation of a film as worthy as Frankenstein (1931) or Old Dark House (1932) will meet with dashed hopes.

A Pacific-crossing by seaplane is caught in a storm. Surprisingly good low budget FX show the plane crashing onto the sea in a typhoon.

Sinners in ParadiseThe plane sinks with its officers on board, but a motley group of travelers survive. They were on their way to Shanghai, most of them fleeing from something or another.

They make it to an isolated island where they find a fellow named Taylor (John Boles) living a Robinson Crusoe sort of existence along with his man Friday, a Chinese servant Ping (Willie Fung who makes vastly more of the veritable "me Chinese" role than seems humanly possible).

Taylor has a small yacht anchored nearby but refuses to help the castaways get back to civilization. Since only he & Ping know how to pilot a sailing yacht on the high seas, the castaways are unhappily stuck.

There's Jim (Bruce Cabot) the gangster with a heart of gold but nevertheless greedy to keep pocketsful of stolen cash; platinum blonde Iris (Marion Martin) who was headed for Shanghai more or less to hide out until time to give state's evidence against some bad guys; heiress Thelma (Charlotte Wynters) who has fled from responsibility for working conditions in the factory she owns; senator Corey (Gene Lockhart) a politician who keeps his integrity on the auction block; two competing munitions profiteers; & others, with just one decent soul, Anne (Madge Evans) whose husband divorced her because she joined the Red Cross rather than try to patch up her rocky marriage.

Anne falls for Taylor even though he's a wanted man. Iris falls for Jim who's a much nicer gangster than any she has previously been screwing. The munitions dealers kidnap Ping & steal the yacht for a side-adventure in which Ping proves to be the only genuinely heroic character in the film, though a little too Gunga Din in devoting his heroism to assisting the white man.

Much of the film is more than just a little like Gilligan's Island, as the inept group try to feed & shelter themselves after Taylor turns them out. It's heavily padded with dialogue that is played mainly for laughs & campiness. Eventually it gets semi-serious with murders & villainies occurring, but apart from Ping's adventures with the shithead munitions dealers, none of it is very exciting.

After some while isolated & relying on one another, most of them learn good lessons & become good people, whereas others are killed & learn nothing. Jim agrees to burn the stolen money as a symbol of his choosing Iris above greed. Thelma feeling she has had to do an unfair portion of the survival work learns what it's like to be an exploited laborer. Reclusive Taylor decides to return to civilization & take his legal licks, & nurse Anne promises to wait for him to get out of jail.

Possibly Whale's worst directorial effort, I'd give Sinners in Paradise a "D" for dull & dumb, & yet I can't say it totally failed to entertain me.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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