Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Island (Elliott-Shelton Films, Inc., 1952)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Alas, the “feature” Charles and I watched after the Father Brown show was nowhere nearly as good — though it would have made an excellent candidate for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 treatment. It was called Love Island and was a South Seas action-adventure film done on the really cheap by something called “Elliott-Shelton Films, Inc.” — if this thing actually got sold to a reputable distributor I have no idea — in 1952. The stars — if, to paraphrase Dwight Macdonald, I may use the term for courtesy — are dancer Paul Valentine, whom I’ve seen elsewhere only in the Marx Brothers’ last film, Love Happy, and Eva Gabor, whose bizarre miscasting as a South Seas beauty — including the long black wig that covers up her normal blonde tresses and looks like someone made it from straw and then spray-painted it black — gives this film camp appeal even though it doesn’t make it any good. The stated running time on is 66 minutes, and that’s the version we saw, but there seems to be some uncertainty about just how much content is in this film: the credits list two songs, “Across the Sea” and “Love at First Sight,” written by Jerry Bragin, but “Love at First Sight” was the only one we heard. The credits also promised that there was a narration by André Baruch (there wasn’t) and that the film was in color (Cinécolor, according to, but the print we were watching was an download in black-and-white (probably copied from a TV print made in black-and-white because back then typically shortsighted Hollywood “suits” thought, “TV isn’t in color — why should we spend the money to strike color prints for them?” That’s why I love the story about Walt Disney’s brother Roy, who ran the financial end of the company, asking him, “Why did you spend all that money making the Davy Crockett TV shows in color? TV isn’t in color” — and Walt just smiled at him and said, “It will be”). The story begins with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Richard Taber (Paul Valentine) talking to a friend on board what’s supposed to be a commercial airliner but which looks like it was never farther off the ground than the beams supporting the set on the soundstage floor. He’s lamenting the loss of his best friend in a plane crash during World War II and explaining how he himself survived by parachuting to a South Seas island whose native name translates as “Love Island.” There’s an awful lot of love going on on Love Island but also an awful lot of forced marriage and women made miserable by the repulsive, and usually abusive, middle-aged men they’re forced to marry.

Heroine Sarna (Eva Gabor) is in love with local boy Tamor (Dean Norton) but, much to not only her own distaste but that of her father Aryuna (Frank McNellis), who seems to be the only older man on the island with a moral sense, she’s going to be forced to marry the horrible, mean, nasty, repulsive and generally no-good Uraka (Malcolm Lee Beggs) because … well, it’s not quite clear but it seems to have something to do with the fact that Uraka is the richest man on Love Island and he can apparently buy anything he wants, including multiple wives. There’s also another love couple, Ninga (Bruno Wick) and Klepon (Kathryn Chang); Ninga and Klepon are genuinely in love but have to carry their affair clandestinely because she’s already been married either to Uraka or someone equally as unattractive and grotesque. Once Sarna gets a look at the hunk who’s descended from the skies with a parachute, she immediately forgets about Tamor and falls in love with the new guy instead, and just at the time she’s decided he’s the guy she really wants to marry she hears the bells of a ceremony that’s about to hitch her to Uraka. The footage of the ceremony is from a 1935 film called Legong: Dance of the Virgins, directed by Gloria Swanson’s ex-husband Henri de la Falaise in two-strip Technicolor and shot in Bali, since it features gamelan music (and one of the few appeals this movie has is the opportunity to see a gamelan orchestra in action — as well as the hauntingly beautiful shirtless Balinese guys who play in it!), which not only takes place in far more elaborate settings than the ones the producers could come up with for the South Seas island of their dreams (or nightmares) but is much more creatively directed and photographed as well. Every time we cut to the Balinese footage, however grainy it may be, we’re enthralled by the sheer beauty of it and also the imagination with which it was filmed compared to the relative dullness of director Bud Pollard’s work on the main movie. (Bud Pollard didn’t get a Worst Director of All Time nomination from Harry and Michael Medved in their book The Golden Turkey Awards, but he arguably deserved one: his best-known films were the late-1940’s cheapies he did with Louis Jordan but in the 1930’s he made a ridiculous film called The Horror that apparently was released only in Japan until a decade later, when he cut it down to four reels, printed on 16 mm and offered it to church groups as a cautionary anti-alcoholism film called John the Drunkard!)

Pollard’s direction and the script by John E. Gordon and Daniel Kusell (never heard of any of these people? There’s a reason for that) plod along as Ninga gets killed, presumably by his lover Klepon’s husband, only no one seems interested in apprehending the killer and the plot’s focus stays on just how, if at all, Sarna is going to get out of her social obligation to marry the creep Uraka and who she’s going to end up with if she can finagle her way out of the wedding. Sarna has the brilliant idea of hiding her new American boyfriend Lt. Richard Taber in a giant teak-and-gold box her native squeeze Tamor has given her as a wedding present; Taber makes sure to tell Sarna not to lock the box so he can get out of it when he needs to, but Uraka catches on, grabs the key from Sarna and locks the box himself, then tells two of his manservants that after the wedding they’re supposed to carry the box over a nearby bridge and “accidentally” lose control of it and throw it over the bridge so its occupant will drown. All ends well, as Taber somehow makes it out of the box and throws Uraka into it, thereby ensuring that he will meet the fate he decreed for either Taber or Tamor, he didn’t seem to care which, and then after we’ve heard that story we cut back to the interior of the plane (ya remember the plane?) and Taber’s friend is asking him what happened to the girl on the island, and whether he’s got a girl waiting for him back home à la the “real American wife” Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton insisted he’d someday marry in Madama Butterfly. Taber says he indeed has a girl waiting for him, but not back home, and the camera pans to a shot of Sarna — that’s right, Eva Gabor in all her black-wigged glory — lying recumbent on a couch (a couch? On an airliner? I’m not making this up, you know!). I had trouble staying awake through Love Island and it wasn’t just my general level of exhaustion, either; one laments the waste of Paul Valentine’s talents on crap like this (he got a splendid start in great movies like Out of the Past and House of Strangers but never got the kinds of parts he deserved after that), and as for Eva Gabor … well, one reviewer noted that she seemed to have less of an accent here than she did on her TV series Green Acres, though that’s less important than the fact that she had no idea how to act in 1952 and she didn’t learn to act any better in the intervening 14 years between those two credits!