It’s the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon… first movie blogathon of the year for Karavansara, and a good opportunity to watch (again) a nice piece of old fashioned exotic melodrama.
But first things first – the Babs blogathon is hosted by the In the Good Old Days of Hollywood blog…
And here you’ll find the list of all the other blogs participating in this event. Check them out – Barbara Stanwyck had a long and very diverse career, and you’ll find all sorts of different movies.
As for us, here, we’ll take a good look at Escape to Burma, a 1955 RKO movie directed by veteran Allan Dwan.
Which is just the sort of thing we like hereabouts – pulpy, noirish, adventurous and shot in garish colors.
What else do you need?
The plot – Jim Brecan is a man on the run. He has killed the son of a local potentate, that was his partner in a mining operation. The British authorities are on his trail as he finds harbor in the estate of Gwen Moore, a lone woman that runs an elephant and teak farm.
Jim and Gwen hit it off passionately, but the arrival of superintendent Cardigan forces Jim to flee. After various misadventures, the man finally surrenders when Gwen is wounded during a shoot-out.
But there’s a final twist as the native authorities prepare to execute Jim…
Escape to Burma is a small movie, that finds its greatest assets in the cast.
Robert Ryan seems almost forgotten today, but he was a charismatic, flint-eyed, tough-but-ironic leading man, perfectly fit for the role of the killer on the run. While playing a muscular character, Ryan brings to each scene Jim Brecan’s ambiguity – is he an adventurer? A criminal? Surely he can’t be innocent, but is he playing with Gwen’s feelings?
And as for Gwen’s feelings… Stanwyck makes Gwen a very material, sensual character. She’s not a naive girl falling for some man out of the jungle – she’s a very grown up individual, fully in control of her world, respected by her people and handy with a rifle, and her desires are obviously of a very carnal nature. Granted, Brecan saves her from a tiger, but she’s no damsel in distress.
Odd man out is British character actor David Farrar, a veteran of Powell & Pressburger productions1, in the role of Cardigan – the honest but ruthless man of the law, hell-bent on capturing Brecan to bring him to trial (and gallows).
The three leads carry most of the weight of the film – and there’s a definite chemistry at work.
Given a good linear plot and a solid cast, Allan Dwan (that in 50 years of career directed 125 films) plays with light and color to bring to life the scenes.
The movie looks great – both in the exotic and opulent interiors and in the jungle scenes (most of them shot in a soundstage) are nicely photographed and there’s a pair of dolly shots that make the most of the sets.
Through the eye of the camera, Burma is a place fraught with dangers as befitting a thrilling locale – there’s tigers and wild animals, abandoned villages and bandits, ancient spooky pagodas and scary thunderstorms.
And apes – there’s a wonderful scene with Stanwyck and a small monkey: it is clearly improvised, as the red-knickers-wearing primate has its own ideas of what to do with the blond actress and her mirror. We also get a far-away-from-home African chimp in the temple scene.
The ending is suitably melodramatic, and pulls a nice sleight-of-hand trick on the viewer, settling every loose end and offering an unexpected happy ending to the whole affair.
A ripping yarn in the style of the old Oriental Stories magazine, Escape to Burma might look today a little politically incorrect in its portrayal of the Burmese people, and its final melodramatic twist might be perceived by some as weakening the noir-style ambiguous development.
there’s also a vague suspect that a few scenes were cut, making some of the development appear hasty. But the story holds nicely, the performances are excellent, and all in all, they don’t make ’em like this anymore, and it’s a pity.
- and the face of Sexton Blake in two 1940s movies! ↩