Friday, January 11, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Law of the Tropics (1941)

LAW OF THE TROPICS is an enjoyable Warner Bros. "B" film starring Constance Bennett and Jeffrey Lynn.

Lynn plays Jim Conway, one of the top employees at a South American rubber operation; he arrives in a port city to meet his fiancee, only to discover he's been jilted. Jim meets nightclub entertainer Joan Madison (Bennett), who's being followed by a U.S. detective (Thomas Jackson) who wants to arrest her for something that happened back in New Jersey.

Joan suggests a temporary marriage of convenience which will allow Jim to save face with his employees and provide her with some cash. She doesn't mention to Jim that what she really needs is an out-of-the-way place to live! Jim agrees, and it turns out that the couple are very compatible and may be falling in love for real. But that detective is still after Joan...

I liked this movie, particularly Bennett's engaging performance as Joan, who works hard to make herself useful to Jim living in the South American jungle. I've always liked Lynn -- though he could have done without the pencil mustache he's wearing in this film -- and there's also good old Regis Toomey as Jim's righthand man. Mona Maris plays Toomey's wife, who becomes close friends with Joan.

The film flies by in a breezy 76 minutes, with any problems quickly overcome. This is one of those movies which was considered a run-of-the-mill programmer when it was released, yet I find it much more enjoyable spending time with the lively, lovely Bennett and company in Burbank's soundstage and backlot jungles than I would watching most of what passes as modern-day "entertainment."

I liked the camaraderie of the two lead couples and especially the can-do attitude of Bennett's character. She's so "with it" it's hard to understand how she ever could have landed in trouble in the first place! I especially loved a little scene where Bennett negotiates the terms of her husband's employement with the company owner (Paul Harvey), who ends up an admirer.

To be sure, the plot requires some suspension of disbelief, and it has its sillier moments, such as the young Craig Stevens' over-the-top performance as the obnoxious son of the rubber company owner -- but that's also a part of what makes the movie fun. I found it quite amusing watching Stevens in one of his very first credited roles, even if he's so rude it's almost unbelievable.

LAW OF THE TROPICS was directed by Ray Enright. The screenplay was inspired by a previous Warner Bros. film, OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA (1935), which was in turn based on a novel. The black and white cinematography was by Sid Hickox.

The supporting cast includes Hobart Bosworth and Frank Puglia.

This film isn't available on DVD or videotape, but it has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, most recently when Constance Bennett was Star of the Month. The trailer is on the TCM website.


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