Isle of Forgotten Sins (1943)
“Tidal wave of torrid romance and thrills in the South Seas!”
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Cast: John Carradine, Gale Sondergaard, Sidney Toler
Synopsis: The owner of a seedy dive and brothel on a South Seas island meets two treasure hunters looking for a sunken ship with a $3-million cargo of gold.
Better known under its re-issue title of Monsoon, cult director Edgar G. Ulmer’s Isle of Forgotten Sins could have been a passable action movie had it not been shackled by its roots in the Poverty Row studio known as Producers Releasing Corporation. PRC was such an impoverished, ramshackle operation it made the likes of Monogram and Republic look positively laden down with wealth. Apparently Ulmer was inspired to make this movie (he co-wrote with prolific hack writer Raymond L. Schrock) when working on Tabu with famed German director F. W. Murnau but he needed more than inspiration to make this movie work — he needed money, something which PRC was in no position to offer, not in any kind of quantity, anyway.
John Carradine (The Invisible Man, The Howling) and Frank Fenton (It’s a Wonderful Life, Trigger Jr.) play Mike Clancy and Jack Burke, the kind of friends who think nothing of double-crossing one another if it serves their purpose. Early on in Isle of Forgotten Sins we see Burke handcuff Clancy to his bunk and then hot-foot it to the South Seas brothel run by Clancy’s sweetheart, Marge Willison (Gale Sondergaard — Road to Rio) to inform her that now that Clancy’s dead she really should think about marrying him very quickly. This is a stunt that triggers the first of many fist-fights between the two men, but their differences are soon put aside when Clancy learns of a sunken treasure near to the island. Apparently, Captain Krogan (Sidney Toler, in between his shifts as inscrutable Chinese detective Charlie Chan) and his shipmate, the classical piano-playing Johnny Pacific (Rick Vallin) accidentally ran the ship aground, but in reality they deliberately scuppered the ship so that they could claim the cargo as salvage — all they have to do is dupe a couple of mugs into getting the treasure off the seabed for them…
Isle of Forgotten Sins is a movie that could have been much better than it is had it had a bigger budget and a more consistent director than Edgar G. Ulmer. He’s the guy who made the memorable 1934 horror movie The Black Cat and the ultra-cheap Noir classic Detour, but he also directed trash like From Nine to Nine, Girls in Chains, and The Amazing Transparent Man, and in Isle of Forgotten Sins we see evidence of how and why he was capable of producing works of such contrasting quality. Ulmer was clearly a man of ideas who too often lacked the means to transfer those ideas onto the screen in the way that he must have originally envisaged. The movie has a running time of only 77 minutes, but even that meagre length is padded out with flat musical interludes, pointless fist-fights and lengthy underwater sequences that are unrelentingly dull.
The cast is pretty good for a cheap movie like this, although John Carradine, who is so thin he nearly becomes invisible when shot in profile, is woefully miscast as a two-fisted man of action who is irresistible to sultry women like Marge. Sondergaard is far more believable in her role, although she’s eclipsed by the beautiful Veda Ann Borg in shared scenes, and pretty much relegated to the position of onlooker by the time Isle of Forgotten Sins enters its final act. At least the movie is refreshingly free of the annoying comedy sidekick usually found in Hollywood b-movies of this era, and you can see the ambition Ulmer had for the project, even of little of his plans apparently came to fruition. He makes good use of the materials at hand — and judicious use of stock footage — but the model work is laughably bad and, as he helped write the screenplay, Ulmer must accept his share of the blame for unintentionally funny lines such as “the agitation of the water will be due to my hearty laughter.”
(Reviewed 6th May 2014)