For Reel

Devil’s Island (1939)
November 30, 2015, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Clemens
3.5 Stars
Devil's IslandWarner Brothers, quick to capitalize on both social issues and current headlines, rushed this Boris Karloff picture into production after the notoriously cruel French penal colony stopped receiving prisoners in 1938. It afforded Karloff the chance to play an unambiguous hero as the respected surgeon who is wrongfully accused after offering medical assistance to a revolutionary. While its reputation has been eclipsed by its predecessors in the genre–The Prisoner of Shark Island and Captain Blood share many plot similarities–it is efficiently made, with director William Clemens and cinematographer George Barnes packing in the hour running time with small, memorable details that give the setting its sense of horror (such as the practice of barring all of the prisoner’s legs together before lights out). Karloff is very good at playing an empathetic victim, but he also brings a great sense of anger to the role–he’s not a man who is resigned to his own fate, but who comes to be outraged by the cruelty to those around him. As the overseer, James Stephenson wisely underplays the role. Instead of interpreting the Colonel as a sniveling psychopath, Stephenson suggests a pompous, upper class snob, who seems physically repulsed by Karloff when he has to call on him to save his daughter.

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