Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Down to Their Last Yacht

Some of the B movies studios made could be really bizarre, sometimes delightfully so. Recently I had the chance to watch Down to Their Last Yacht.

The Colt-Strattons: Dad Geoffrey (Ramsay Hill), mom (Marjorie Gateson) and daughter Linda (tragic Sidney Fox) are a family who were in the Social Register in 1929. Of course, that was the year of the stock market crash that caused a depression. So like a lot of formerly rich people, they've been impoverished, having to get real jobs and biking to work. The only possession they have left is their old yacht which must have been paid for.

The Colt-Strattons have a yacht but no way to sail it. Nella Fitzgerald (Polly Moran) has a ship's captain, "Sunny Jim" Roberts (Ned Sparks), but no ship for him to sail. So it should be a match made in heaven. Nella plans to rent the yacht and invite a bunch of newly rich people who apparently need to get out of the United States to go on a cruise of the Pacific. There are any number of character actors here (I thought I recognized Tom Kennedy and IMDb says he was indeed uncredited as one of the passengers), but the only passengers we really need to worry about are Barry Forbes (Sidney Blackmer) and his companion Freddy Finn (Sterling Holloway). Nella doesn't want them on the cruise, but Barry has been pursuing Linda, so she lets him come on the cruise.

Barry doesn't really have any money, but comes up with the brilliant idea of having a casino night with Freddy gaming the roulette table so that the house -- in this case the Colt-Strattons -- can win and Barry and Linda will have enough money to get married. But just as Barry is getting caught at his deception, Captain Jim runs the yacht aground on a sandbar of one of the Polynesian islands.

The only thing is, this isn't any ordinary South Seas island. How it survives economically is anybody's guess, but this island, Malakamokalu, has a decidedly white Queen (Mary Boland) who's a bit daffy and seems to have various forms of death penalty for even the smallest of infractions, at least those infractions that displease Her Majesty.

Captain Jim deliberately ran the yacht aground, as his idea was to take off at high tide with none of the passengers on board, but all of their cash still on the yacht. The Queen, however, isn't about to let Captain Jim get away with that. She plans to get everything for herself and make the passengers effectively her slaves, with the exception that she's going to marry Barry and make him her king. Barry decides the punishment for one of the passenger's infractions shouldn't be the death penalty, but deportation by means of going back on the ship. The Queen agrees, but surreptitiously decides to have the boat rigged to explode because she wants to see an explosion (and presumably because the passengers deserve capital punishment).

In and among all this, there are several musical numbers. Most of the songs are sung by the cast as a more or less whole, with one or two characters at a time getting a sardonic verse. The finale on the island involves the islanders and not the passengers, and made me think of a very tame version of "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" from The Gang's All Here what with the swaying palm frond.

You can probably infer from all of this that Down to Their Last Yacht is pretty odd. There isn't much plot, considering the movie runs about 64 minutes including all the songs. Part of the Queen's hospitality for the passengers involves having them wear island clothes while doing their new jobs, so we get to see a bunch of paunchy middle-aged guys in wraps only covering the bottom half of the body. Who wanted to see that? The songs don't fit in, and the movie ends with most of the plot left unresolved.

So if you're looking for something coherent, you most certainly won't get it in Down to Their Last Yacht. But if you're looking for something bizarre by the standards of 1930s Hollywood, you might want to give it a try.

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