Friday, September 25, 2009

Torrid Zone

I just thought that my first post on this blog could be my Torrid Zone film review blog from the CFU. Enjoy and comment all you want!

I just recently watched the 1940 James Cagney movie Torrid Zone, but not for the first time, and it was sort of fun, but I couldn't really bring myself to watch it. To me, the film is an inferior adaptation of Casablanca—though made two years before—with a Central American version of Casablanca's French Morocco locale (same smoky bar environment). It also seems to be Warner Bros.' response to Columbia Pictures' film from the year before, Only Angels Have Wings (directed by Howard Hawks), with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur (same locale); however, both of the films' plotlines are totally different so Torrid Zone isn't officially Warners' response to Only Angels Have Wings. (Though if you ask me, Only Angels Have Wings is like Torrid Zone and Ceiling Zero [another movie James Cagney made with Pat O'Brien] combined together.) Anyway, as always, James Cagney makes the film worth watching and is enjoyable as Nick Butler, the cocky banana plantation worker from Chicago. But again, he has that same pencil-thin mustache that he wore in previous movies such as Lady Killer (1933), He Was Her Man (1934), etc; for the second time, Cagney just isn't Cagney if he's wearing a mustache—and I for one don't take him seriously when I see him in that thing. Despite Jimmy Cagney being the star of the film, it was really Ann Sheridan's movie since she stole every scene that she was in. Pat O'Brien was okay as the authorative plantation owner but he was also kinda loud. Nevertheless, according to a book called Warners Wiseguys (which is about the 112 films that Cagney, Bogart, and Robinson made for the studio), the film wasn't all that great:

Jim hated the project from the moment he received the script, initially refused to do it, then capitulated when
the studio had nothing else for him to do. To play Nick Butler, overseer of a
Latin American banana plantation, he decided not to shave a pencil-thin
mustache, just to aggravate Jack Warner and Hal Wallis, who thought the facial
hair lessened his tough-guy appeal. Cagney had to act in the film with a
left-hand injury, the result of a shooting accident that occurred when he tried
to drive away coyotes from the henhouse he kept on his Coldwater Canyon estate.
Though he promoted the picture as “Horrid Zone” on
The Edgar Bergen and Charlie
McCarthy Show
, he did appreciate spending more time with Pat O’Brien and Ann
Sheridan. The stunning cinematography of James Wong Howe is wasted on Macauley
and Wald’s atrocious script, [which is] an endless parade, of ethnic
stereotypes, unfunny attempts at humor, and dreadful dialogue adding up to one
of the most embarrassing projects released by Warner Bros. during the Golden
Age…The nearly nonexistent plot of Torrid Zone isn’t the film’s biggest defect.
The milieu involving white overseers and “native” laborers in a plantation
system smacks of slavery, and the fact that Caucasian actors play all the Latino
speaking parts makes this element even more obnoxious…White actors in brownface
speaking pidgin English provide an ironic contrast to the actual Latino actors
relegated to non-speaking extra parts. Torrid Zone’s facetious depiction of the
ethnic characters differs from the serious portrayals in The Hatchet Man and
Virginia City…Pat O’Brien’s entire performance is consistently annoying, as he
(obviously believing the material beneath him) practically yells his way through
the entire film. Cagney and Sheridan, on the other hand, appear to ignore the
inferior script by giving their usual polished portrayals…Cagney works in his
usual quota of physical action: kicking the ship’s [where he meets Sheridan]
skipper overboard (twice); engaging in some “broad bashing” by holding Sheridan
upside down to shake loose the $300 she won in her crooked game; and punching
out Sancho and Carlos [bandits], two men larger than himself. The white hat Jim
wears throughout the film, rivaling his Oklahoma Kid 10-gallon in absurdity,
adds some camp to his generally straightforward performance. The film’s closing
line also offers an in-joke, referring to Sheridan. Holding [Sheridan] in his
arms, [Cagney] admits that he’s staying for “you and your 14-carat oomph.”
The ethnocentric dialogue contradicts Warner Bros.’ traditionally progressive
values. After the studio produced films exploring incarceration, institutional
abuses and capital punishment, Torrid Zone (supposedly a comedy) arrived in
theaters replete with jokes about execution…

...and I sort of agree with the book and I don't blame Cagney for not wanting to do this film. However, I did like the scene where Pat O'Brien abruptly and rudely knocks Jim Cagney out of bed (and La-la Land). I thought the scene did a good job of making fun of lazybones Cagney, who wasn't exactly lazy but his character is supposed to be a lazy ne'er-do-well. I didn't really watch the gunfight between Cagney and the Latino bandits because I thought it was too dramatic. This film was to mark the last time James Cagney and Pat O'Brien were teamed together on the screen until 40 years later when they would be teamed together for the last time in their whole film careers in Ragtime (1981)—after Cagney would come out of his 20-year retirement. And despite having an invisible plotline, this film did pretty well at the box-office. I wouldn't really recommend this movie for a James Cagney fan but then again, I would recommend it. Again, you folks may comment wiith your own opinions on this film but you don't have to.

(Next blog: A Midsummer Night's Dream [1935])
Warners Bloopers Reel, which includes this film (well, mostly this film).
Caution: Side-splittingly funny!


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