Movies and Film

Held Prisoner Upon the… – Island of Doomed Men (1940)

The motion picture called Island of Doomed Men would be a rather forgettable experience if not for the memorable performance of Peter Lorre. It was not a terrible movie as such, but neither was it a truly riveting piece of work, merely falling somwhere in-between. If it were not for Lorre, there is every chance that it would have been forgotten amongst the thousands of other B films produced over the last ninety years or so. As it is, it does make for essential viewing just to see a master at work, even if it is in such middling material.

For his part, Lorre always excels as the villain and here he plays a man who deals in white slavery, taking both prisoners and pardoned men onto his private island for his own personal gain and where every day is a battle for survival. Like many of the roles he has played, Lorre gives new meaning to the word subtle, playing Stephen Danel with a quiet, yet very palpable menace. He enjoys torturing those who serve him, whether it be the prisoners or his wife as portrayed by Rochelle Hudson and Lorre is so good that he almost makes the audience believe that it is he himself and not his character that enjoys the pain he inflicts on his victims. The rule of thumb when it comes to nearly any film is having the viewer root for and focus upon the hero or protagonist as they are usually left standing when all is said and done. Here, despite Robert Wilcox giving a fairly good performance, Lorre steals the show, bucking the trend but being better for it.

The rest of the actors were forgettable, merely present to beef up the cast and give those in the leads somebody to play off of and yet, it still managed to work, mainly because Lorre was the glue that would hold it all together. Director Charles Barton would engineer a bit of tension to go along with it all, thereby giving the audience a little something extra to grasp onto during those dramatic moments where Wilcox would be planning his escape with whatever help he could find. Again, without Lorre the picture would be fairly unassuming and more than likely relegated to the annals of time, but come the end of it all, it turned out to be fairly enjoyable, if only to see just how creepy and evil the man could be.

3 out of 5

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