East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


In paradise with Jacques Tourneur

I found out about Adventures in Paradise via a song called We are the people our parents warned us about. And yes, that’s how I spent my vacations.

Hey hey, Gardner McKay, take us on the leaky Tiki with you
Clear skies bound for Shanghai, sailin’ on the ocean blue

And so I went and googled that name, and found out about a TV series that never aired in my country.

Adventures in Paradise was based on an idea by James A. Michener, whose first book of the same title had been the basis for the musical South Pacific. The series was very loosely based on the general concept of the book. A Korean War vet called Adam Troy – actor Gardner McKay, that got name-checked in the song I mentioned – living in the South Pacific, and working as a charter captain, the skipper of the two-master Tiki.
In each episode, he meets new people and faces a new adventure.
Michener’s popularity as a writer was enough to have the series presented as James A. Michener’s Adventures in Paradise.

The series was launched in 1959, and lasted until 1962, with three seasons and a total of 91 episodes.

So yes, adventure stories on the seas – that sounds pretty much like my cup of tea.
Wikipedia has a page for the series, with a list of the featured stars – the likes of Martin Landau, Barbara Steel, Anna May Wong, Vincent Price and Ann Francis – and directors. And this is where a name caught my attention: Jacques Tourneur.

Now, in case you missed it, Jacques Tourneur is the director of two essential movies, that is Cat People (1942), and Night of the Demon (1957, and based on a story by M.R.James), but he also directed a number of other classics. He’s a legend in the field.
And in 1962 he directed an episode of Adventures in Paradise called A Bride for the Captain.

I had to track it down.
And it was not hard to find, as a lot of episodes of the series have been uploaded in Youtube.

Here I had found a perfect “blogger thing” – why not watch all the available episodes, and do a post on each throughout the remainder of this year?
After all, Adventures in Paradise falls under the bailiwick of Karavansara, right?
We even have a sub-cathegory called “South Seas”!
And why not start with Tourneur’s contribution?

So I started watching, picking a few episodes at random, and was quite pleased with what I saw.
OK, it’s a very old TV series, but the premise is sound, the cast is good, and it’s the right thing for the hot summer evenings.

Why not start with the Tourneur episode straight away?
Well, because it came late in the series, and I wanted to get the general layout of the set-up before I got to the one episode I really wanted to see. In order to be able to make a comparison.
And now here we go.

The series in general, as I said, appears to be a more than decent adventure entertainment, with a few noir-ish touches, and an ample serving of exoticism that manages to be quite refreshing. Yes, it’s a bit National Geographic-y, but I grew up reading old National Geographics, so there.
Adam Troy is not a stereotypical tough guy. He’s smart and resourceful, and has a sense of humor.
He does pull all the ladies, but hey, that’s why he’s the hero, I guess.
The thing is entirely shot on sound stages or in the back lot in Hollywood, but that’s OK.
It’s a fun show.

Then we get to A Bride for the Captain and… uh.
The guest star is Ray Walston, of My Favorite Martian fame, and the general tone is comedy.
The premise: Frank Hoag (Walston) is an old friend of Captain Troy, and he’s back in the Pacific after his fourth divorce. And because he got four failed marriages behind him and his old friend Troy is still single, he decides as a form of revenge (?) to get him married.
To do so, he’s willing to spread rumors, falsify documents, and intrude into other people’s lives and try and manipulate others.

Quite a ton of laughs, what?

In fact there are a few pretty comic moments, courtesy of the supporting presence of veterans J. Pat O’Malley and Arthur Malet in the role of two shameless crooks that get sucked into the plot.
But the whole thing is tired, and decidedly unfunny for most of the time.
Maybe it’s the premise, that’s somewhat offensive, maybe it’s the writing.
Tourneur’s hand can still be detected in the way some scenes are framed and shot, but all in all, the episode is highly forgettable.
It came out in March 1962, and four weeks later, the show was over. So maybe the writing feels the fatigue of the long run.

But still, the premise of the series is good, and there are a lot of better episodes available … and we’ll talk about them in the next weeks.


Midnight in Palo Pango

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?


Let’s see… Continue reading

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Other People’s Pulps: The Adventures of the Seaspray

I’ll start the year with a chunk of personal nostalgia.

I mentioned already – ad nauseam – how my generation was brought up with a steady, solid, high quality diet of adventure… often, real life adventure.
I grew up with documentaries about the Apollo missions, about Thor Heyerdahl, about deep sea divers and explorers.
There was a lot of South Seas in my youth – mostly through the Folco Quilici documentaries, but also thanks to a TV series that hit the Italian screens in the early ’70s – when I was about six or seven years old.


It was an Australian serial, and it was called The Adventures of the Seaspray – but in Italy was presented as “A Sud dei Tropici” (South of the Tropics). Continue reading

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Cobra Woman (1944)

220px-CobrawomanThere’s no sand, in Cobra Woman, the 1944 Universal movie that brought Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu back to the screens after the success of Arabian Nights… so this is an anomalous entry in the Tits & Sand series.
Cobra Woman is a South Seas movie – and yes, that’s another genre we’ll have to keep an eye on, because it’s a fun, pulp sort of entertainment.

Directed by Robert Siodmak, Cobra Woman also features Lon Chaney Jr.1 in a small but foundamental role.
And yes, there’s also a big plastic cobra – somewhat embarrassing – but we’ll get to that.
Continue reading