Saturday, January 31, 2015

Torture Ship, Human Experimentation on the High Seas

Something a bit different today...a film from the 1930s.  Not called B movies back then, but that is exactly what they were...the second string of cinematic achievement.  No Clark Gable or Carole Lombard, these films relied on terrific actors and actresses who needed to work to make a living.  These films were often showed during matinees, as part of double or triple features.  "Torture Ship" from 1939, directed by Victor Halperin ("White Zombie"), based on a story by Jack London, is our object of desire today.  If re-made in 2015, this film would include zombies, and exploding torsos.
The plot:  Dr. Stander has just been indicted for illegal experimentation on humans.  Our mad scientist is insistent that his experiments must continue, though the justice system seems bent on shutting him down.  No worries!  Dr. Stander has a contingency plan.  His experiments?  He is tinkering with the endocrine gland in order to make heinous criminals into model members of society.  The fiend collects these reprobates, such as: a Blue Beard, who has killed nine brides, Poison Mary (Sheila Bromley) who has poisoned several husbands to collect their life insurance, a machine gun slayer who committed a massacre at Union Station, a bomber, a strangler, a razor killer, and Joan (the beautiful secretary of Poison Mary, who is believed to be in cahoots with her).  The doctor gathers all these charmers on a ship and steams for open water outside the borders of any legal system.
Fortunately for the beautiful and pure Joan (Julie Bishop), Lt.Bob (Lyle Talbot) is second in command.  This hunk falls instantly in love with Joan, but she is slated to assume the fate of a lab rat.  The criminals plot escape, but the doctor is always one step ahead.  As each criminal is muscled into the lab to receive the experimental serum, the passengers get more desperate.  The effects of the formula are hideous.  If the subject doesn't die, they become zombies, or even more maniacal and violent.  In addition to the doctor, the passengers must also defend against each other.  Murderers are still murderers.  At one point, Poison Mary tries to kill Joan...hence a nice cat-fight ensues (pictured above).  As Lt. Bob pleads for Joan, the doctor realizes that he is not a team player.  As Bob is tied up, and the doctor comes at him with a syringe, Joan makes her move to save her new beau.
Is Dr. Stander on his way to winning the Nobel Prize for medicine?  Will Bob and Joan live long enough to consummate their love for each other, and perhaps earn a cruise on the Love Boat?  Are the experiments on humans in "Torture Ship" merely a foreshadowing of the experiments done on human subjects during Franklin D. Roosevelt's Administration, such as Tuskegee, and the USS Eldridge?  This movie is a lot of fun, and one wonders why a modern film-maker hasn't remade it. Instead of remaking "Ordinary People" (oh! Heaven forbid!), hopefully someone will find "Torture Ship" more worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. I love how varied your reviews are. It's simply awesome that you can give us insight intto treats such as these which I didn't know existed. Rock on!!!