Monday, May 11, 2015
"THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" (1932) Review
"THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" (1932) Review
I am not one of those movie lovers who seemed to limit my selection of films to one particular genre or period in filmaking. Nor do I regard films from one particular era to be superior to another. I either enjoy an individual film or I do not.
Recently, I watched the 1932 melodrama called "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP". The movie featured the screen debut of Charles Laughton as a submarine commander who expresses jealousy toward any man who pays attention to his long suffering wife. It also starred Tallulah Bankhead as the long suffering wife and the commander’s new executive officer, who harbors feelings for the wife.
The movie begins with Commander Charles Sturm harboring jealous suspicions of a romance between his wife Diana and Lieutenant Jaeckel, a young officer aboard his submarine. Sturm's suspicions are baseless, since Jaeckel's only interest in Diana is to offer her friendship. But Sturm has him transferred with a mark on his record. After Sturm indulges in a fit of jealous rage, Diana hits the streets of a North African port city during a festival and encounters another officer, who turns out to be Lieutenant Sempter, Jaeckel's replacement. Without bothering to tell Sempter her true identity, Diana drifts into a one night stand with him. The following day, Sempter pays a call to his new commander and discovers that the latter's wife is the same woman with whom he had a sexual tryst. Worse, Sturm immediately becomes aware that the pair knows each other . . . and plot revenge against them.
I have only been able to find a mere handful of reviews for the movie, including one written by The New York Timesreviewer Mordaunt Hall. I was surprised by the reviews I had written. Or perhaps I should have just tolerated it. After all, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about any work of art. The thing is . . . I do not agree with those reviews I have read. Well . . . I did come across one review that came close to how I felt. In my opinion, "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" is a piece of shit. I believe it is truly awful and one of the worst movies I have seen from the Pre-Code era.
Before I dump any further negative adjectives in this review, I will reveal what I liked about "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP". I liked Charles Lang's cinematography, which contributed a great deal to the movie's slightly exotic atmosphere. This was especially apparent in the street scene in which Diana and Sempter first met. Bernard Herzbrun's art direction also added to the film's look. I also found Travis Benton's costume designs for Tallulah Bankhead very attractive . . . especially her evening gowns. The movie benefited from one last virtue - namely Cary Grant's performance. The Bristol-born actor first arrived in Hollywood in 1931. He made his first eight films in the year 1932. "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" proved to be his fifth film. Fortunately, he managed to give a natural, yet subtle performance as the young naval officer determined to befriend Diana Sturm, before his character is permanently shuffled off screen.
But Cary Grant, Travis Benton, Charles Land and Bernard Herzbrun were not able to save this film for me. "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" was based upon Maurice Larrouy's novel, "Sirenes et Tritons". In the hands of a first-rate screenwriter and director, it could have been an interesting character drama. Unfortunately, Paramount Studios put this film into the hands of screenwriter Benn Levy and director Marion Gering, the movie proved to be melodramatic drivel.
One of the problems with "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" was the writing. The movie never indicated for which country Commander Sturm and Lieutenants Sempter and Jaeckel served. One could assumed they all served the Royal Navy, but due to the mixture of accents - including a French one belonging to a crewman standing guard on the quay - I am at a loss. And is it really possible for the commanding officer's wife to board his ship without his knowledge or permission? I find that hard to believe . . . even for 1932. And how on earth did Sturm find out about the Arab street vendor who sold a bottle of perfume to Diana, while she was with Sempter? I am also at a loss as to why Diana had failed to tell anyone - including her husband and the naval review court - that she had conducted her brief affair with Sempter without revealing her identity to him? The worst aspect of this story proved to be the final action sequence in which Commander Sturm finally seeks revenge against Diana and Sempter. It was bad enough that Diana managed to board her husband's submarine without permission or an invitation. But Sturm's revenge involved sabotaging the submarine in order to kill Diana, Sempter, the crew and himself. The whole sequence was one of the most idiotic action scenes I have viewed on a movie or television screen. If such a scene had ended in modern-day film, the director would have been laughed out of the movie industry. It was so incredibly stupid.
The other aspect of "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP" that I found hard to swallow were the performances of the leading cast members. Cary Grant was lucky. He was able to escape in time to preserve his performance. On the other hand, Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper and Charles Laughton were not so lucky. Cooper's portrayal of Lieutenant Sempter veered between natural and wooden acting. Bankhead's performance veered between natural and hammy acting that included excessive mannerisms that would have made Bette Davis embarrassed. And Laughton was simply all over the map. I have never been subjected to such hammy acting in my life. There were moments it seemed as if he had forgotten that he was acting in front of a camera, instead of on the stage. Now, these are three actors who managed to give excellent performances over the years. What happened in this film? I blame director Marion Gering, who seemed incapable of handling his cast or bringing out the best in them. I suspect that Cary Grant was able to make his escape before Gering could ruin his performance.
What else can I say about "THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP"? Nothing . . . really. What else is there to say? I disliked it. Intensely. It proved to be one of the worst movies from the 1930s I have ever seen. Director Marion Gering and screenwriter Benn W. Levy took a first-rate cast and a potentially good story and generally made a mess from it. Pity.