Island of Doomed Men (1940) is nothing more than an improbable B-movie, but it is pure fun because Peter Lorre plays the lead character, Stephen Danel, who runs his own private slave labor camp. Think of it as Devil’s Island, privatized. He intervenes with parole boards to sponsor convicts up for release, and transports them to his little island kingdom where he has them mine for gems while he takes sadistic pleasure in tormenting them for fun and profit. A government agent in deep-cover ends up in his labor force, but Danel is way ahead of him!
Throughout the film, Danel’s sadistic and terrifying dominance over others is indicated by the shaking hands with which they light his cigarettes, even without him asking. Danel lives in tropical splendor with a beautiful wife who despises him, and herself, whom he keeps a prisoner. Here, he shoots a servant’s pet monkey that disgusts him. His wife says, “You’re pretty brave with things that can’t fight back.” Ouch!!
“Things that are mine, I keep!” But he can’t keep his wife. She is repelled by him, and was a fool to marry for “security.” She tries to con him into taking her on a trip to the mainland, but Denel replies, “When I first saw you on the stage, you were very beautiful, so beautiful, but your acting was never convincing.” He doesn’t miss much.
Denel works the local parole boards, and does research to find likely additions to his work force. Here, he introduces Sheldon, who goes by John Smith, to his island mansion, surrounded by electrical barriers, to keep out jungle beasts. He takes pleasure in giving his new workers a banquet and taking a souvenir group photo before they learn what they are in for. It’s 1940, but the concentration camps can’t help but come up for viewers today.
Mr. Smith is the object of Denel’s watchful eye twice-over now: he is a government agent, and there seems to be something going on between him and his wife.
Everyone smiles for a group portrait, and then the wonderful meal begins. Unfortunately, an escaped convict breaks in on the festivities and gives up the game before being shot before their eyes.
I turned to this low quality DVD after trying to watch Reds again. I had forgotten how little I liked it when I saw it in 1981. Such a bloated piece of schmaltz – this low budget B-effort was like a breath of fresh air!