Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Torrid Zone

This week's installment of TCM's "Star of the Month" look at pin-up girls brings us an actress known as the "Oomph Girl": Ann Sheridan. Her movie Torrid Zone will be running early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight depending upon your point of view) at 3:30 AM.

Pat O'Brien is the one we see first, playing Steve Case. Steve is the manager of a series of Central American banana plantations in one of those places that gave us the term "banana republic". Steve seemingly runs not only the plantations, but also the entire country. He's got a lot of problems with local revolutionaries led by Rosario (George Tobias); problems with Anderson, a crappy manager at one of the plantations out in the sticks; and problems with Lee Dorsey (Ann Sheridan). Lee is the femme fatale, although she's not quite fatale as she is a con artist who will steal the workers' money in fixed card games. Steve is trying to get Lee deported from the country and back to the States, although she clearly doesn't want to go. And if she does have to go, she'd rather go south to wherever in South America. Probably that place Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth ended up in Only Angels Have Wings or something similar.

I mentioned that Steve was having problems with Anderson, which brings us to the actor who gets top billing: James Cagney. Cagney plays Nick Butler, a man who had formerly managed plantations for Steve, and was quite a good manager, being able to put out all the metaphorical fires quite efficiently. Steve wants Nick to return to work for him, but Nick is insistent upon returning to the States, even though Steve is willing to pay him big money to go back to work for him, at least during the present crisis. Nick gets on the boat to go back to the States, and runs into Lee, who is of course not there by choice. So Nick helps Lee escape and she goes back to dry land. Unsurprisingly, Nick winds up back on dry land himself, and with Lee again.

You can probably guess while watching this thatthere's not going to be a movie is Nick doesn't eventually agree to go out to that plantation in the middle of nowhere. You can probably also figure out that when Nick does go, Lee is going to figure out a way to get there. When Nick gets there, there's another problem: Anderson's wife Gloria (Helen Vinson) is disillusioned with her ineffectual husband, and seems to take a shine to Nick. Finally, one more problem that was foreshadowed at the beginning of the film is that Rosario breaks out of jail and stirs up his revolutionaries again.

Torrid Zone has a stellar cast. But the end result is one that I found underwhelming. The movie moved along slower than you'd think from the plot, and the characters just didn't appeal to me. Several of the reviewers on IMDb have compared this film to His Girl Friday, which was released the same year as Torrid Zone. But something about the three main leads in that one, and especially the underlying plot of the condemned prisoner, sparkles in a way that Torrid Zone just doesn't. As always, however, watch and judge for yourself.

The TCM Shop advertises Torrid Zone as being available as part of a James Cagney box set; I didn't check to see whether it's in print on a standalone basis.

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