FLAME OF THE ISLANDS (1956) is one of those oddball movies which may not be very good, but it's an awful lot of fun.
FLAME OF THE ISLANDS is a meandering mash-up of soap opera and crime film, awkwardly acted, filmed in glorious Trucolor on location in the Bahamas. I had a good time watching it, even though at times I couldn't help shaking my head at the latest strangely staged plot twist. One suspects that some of the cast may have signed up for this Republic film just for a vacation in the Bahamas! And who could blame them?
Yvonne DeCarlo plays Rosalind Dee, who receives the unexpected gift of $100,000 from Evelyn Hammond (Frieda Inescort), who erroneously believes Rosalind was her recently deceased husband's mistress. (No, that doesn't make much sense.) Rosalind and her pal Wade (an underused Zachary Scott) take a trip to the Bahamas, where they invest in a resort with Cyril Mace (Kurt Kasznar). Little do they know that Cyril also has a bunch of mobsters as partners off the books!
One day Doug Duryea comes back into Rosalind's life; Doug is played by Howard Duff, DeCarlo's costar from CALAMITY JANE AND SAM BASS (1949). It transpires that Rosalind's real name is Linda Darcy, and when she was 15 Doug fathered her stillborn child. Doug doesn't even recognize Linda at first (!) but soon they are engaged, to the distress of his mother Charmaine (Barbara O'Neil). Charmaine, you see, doesn't want Doug to marry -- because she wants her son to herself!
And by the way, it was actually Charmaine who was the mistress of Evelyn's husband. Evelyn, as it happens, is Doug's godmother, and when she coincidentally shows up in the Bahamas she can't wait to tell Doug what an awful person his new/old love is, not knowing it was Doug's mother who had the affair with her husband. What a tangled web we weave.
But wait, there's more! (I think this review may set a record for exclamation marks.) There's this tall, handsome preacher fellow (James Arness), a really good guy who teaches Rosalind deep sea fishing, bucks up her spirits when Doug waffles on their relationship, and rescues her from the mobsters.
All this, and Christmas too...some of the movie's Christmas decor is eye-popping.
Where will it all end? I did not see the romantic resolution coming and burst out laughing, but I turned off the TV satisfied, even while chuckling "Well, okay then!" I think I'll enjoy the craziness even more a second time, when I know where it all ends up.
Yvonne gives the part her all, including a couple of musical numbers, but everyone else seems to wander onto the set from their Bahamas vacations from time to time and not really know much of what's going on. The acting seems to fall into two categories: distant and uninvolved (Duff and Scott), or overly melodramatic (O'Neil and Kasznar). One wonders why they even paid Scott, as he's just around the edges of the film with little to do. Duff has been much more appealing in other films; here he's a lovestruck mama's boy.
Arness comes off pretty well, playing one of the only really nice characters in the film, although I wondered for much of the movie why he was even part of the story. That becomes more apparent in the last third of the film.
The movie's brightly hued Trucolor look is one of its virtues, with lots of reds, greens, and blues. It's a bit garish but fun to look at, especially in the Christmas scenes. I also enjoyed the '50s decor, including the big TV set in Rosalind's bungalow.
It was filmed by Bud Thackery and directed by Edward Ludwig.
The opening credits were nicely scored, and it was a fun surprise to find that Nelson Riddle was the film's composer.
Adele Comandini, who wrote the story which was the basis for the Bruce Manning screenplay, has some interesting credits in her background, including Deanna Durbin's THREE SMART GIRLS (1946), the Christmas films BEYOND TOMORROW (1940) and CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), the very good crime drama DANGER SIGNAL (1945), which also starred Zachary Scott, and the delightful Evelyn Keyes-Glenn Ford romantic comedy THE MATING OF MILLIE (1948).
Screenwriter Bruce Manning had himself worked on several Deanna Durbin films, including THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939), FIRST LOVE (1939), and SPRING PARADE (1940), and at the time of this film he had recently written the screenplay for Republic's filming of the Gwen Bristow novel JUBILEE TRAIL (1954).
This film doesn't measure up to the writers' best work, and I suppose one might say it's for fans of the cast only, yet any film fan with an appreciation for absurdity will probably end up enjoying this movie if approached in the right spirit. For me it fell in the "some of this is so bad it's good" category, and I'd definitely watch it again.
FLAME OF THE ISLANDS can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.