It seemed like a good idea at the moment – sleepless in the dreary night of the Astigianistan Hills, I settled down with a steaming cup of tea and Isle of Destiny, a 1940 movie I had never seen or heard of (and I would soon learn why) but that promised adventure and thrills.
After all, the movie poster announced…
She was a sarong wearing – gun-toting – poisoned-dart shooting siren of the South Seas!
What could ever go wrong?
Socialite/aviatrix Virginia Allerton (June Lang) is the sort of woman that flies through a Pacific storm wearing impeccable make-up and a light linen jacket.
Ah, the 1940s!
She decides to make a stop in Palo Pango, somewhere west of Hawaii, where her brother is the commander of a U.S. Marines unit.
In Palo Pango we meet “Stripes” Thornton (William Gargan – the straight man) and “Milly” Barnes (Wallace Ford – the funny man) two USMC guys that are the sort of chaps that sunbathe fully clothed while on duty.
Stripes and Milly are enjoying the good life – because in 1940, serving in the Pacific was practically a long vacation, you see – and are smitten with Virginia’s charms.
But here things get complicated – Oliver Barton (Gilbert Roland), a shady character smuggling arms across the Pacific, decides to use Virginia as a decoy to get the US authorities off his back. He dares Virginia to an airplane speed race, and she ends up wrecked on another island.
While Stripes and Milly run to the rescue, Inda (Katherine DeMille), the native wife of Barton, she of the gun toting/poisoned dart etc., jealous of her husband’s attentions for the aviatrix, decides to do away with Virginia.
OK, it might just work. With Bing Crosby as Stripes and Bob Hope as Milly it might even be funny.
The problem is, the overcomplicated plot is not served well enough by its leads, and if Lang and DeMille are gorgeous, and Roland (a good character actor with a solid career) is slithery enough as the bad guy, it’s Gargan and Ford that really let down the movie.
In general, we get rather unfunny funny bits, and a general lack of action.
In the end, Isle of Destiny commits what’s probably the worst sin an adventure movie can commit. It’s painfully slow and tragically devoid of thrills.
A wasted opportunity.
The best bit is “Doc” Spriggs, an old chap working as Barton’s sidekick, a doctor that believes in reincarnation and often mentions his previous lives. He almost steals the movie.
The whole aviatrix lost in the Pacific thing obviously plays on the Amelia Earhart tragedy – Earhart disappeared in ‘37, and the movie was shot in ‘39 and released in 1940 only because the original production company went belly up.
RKO bought the film, and now you can take a look at a decent copy on YouTube.
Late at night. If you are suffering from insomnia.
But there are probably better ways to spend 95 minutes.
As a side note, I must admit that my own title, Midnight in Palo Pango, does sound like a good title for a story worth writing.