Les film noir sort of implies by way of tradition and content that the images are black and white, but anyone who delves into the critical literature a bit will quickly find a raging debate about color, i.e, can films in color be noir? I’m going to leave that one alone and just say that this flick, Hell’s Island, which doesn’t offer a lot, at least makes the beautiful femme fatale look good in Technicolor.
The story seems like a retread and recycling of quite a few films that came before, and it serves up the characters and twists with not too much vigor: a fat man in a wheelchair with a gun; a silent sidekick; a pond of bloodthirsty alligators; fatal woman; life insurance; curio shop run by a crooked accomplice; a valuable carved ruby…you get the picture. What I enjoyed about the movie was the leading lady (Mary Murphy) who is quite a looker, and who was so evil, but in an utterly clichéd manner. At times, I felt I was watching a parody of The Maltese Falcon. And with that, there was some unintentional humor to be had.
The fatal woman looks good in white, and she gets knocked around a lot by the male lead, John Payne. She deserves it though. Am I a misogynist..?
He falls for the lady’s song and dance about how her husband is unjustly imprisoned on Hell’s Island, and that if he helps him escape, she and he can run off together. She doesn’t love her husband, but doesn’t want him to rot in jail for a murder that she actually committed. Isn’t that nice? I’d buy it, wouldn’t you?
When he gets to the island to spring the husband, he finds the man unwilling to leave. I found this scene deliciously comic. Here a guy is up to his neck in crime and confusion, and he is being enlightened by the husband of the woman he covets, a man whom he risked his life to reach in prison, and whom he intends to ditch as soon as they get out. The husband realizes they will be both be shot trying to escape: exactly her plan. “Clever girl, ” he chuckles, and dumb dumb finally catches on.
Cut to a room with a view where Ms. Poison is shopping for clothes to buy with hubby’s life insurance policy while the two guys argue on Hell’s Island.