Torrid Zone (1940)
HERE COMES TRIPLE TROUBLE and IT’S TORRIFICO!
So says the trailer of this Warner Brothers release from producer Hal Wallis.
The triple trouble refers to the re-teaming of James Cagney, Ann Sheridan and Pat O’Brien from the gangster hit Angels With Dirty Faces. Thankfully they didn’t make it a quadruple re-teaming by casting Bogart in the role of a Mexican bandit. Instead they went with character player George Tobias who does just fine.
This is a light hearted romp where Pat O’Brien is operating a banana plantation and trying to get product to market by ship despite having to put up with bandit Tobias and an inept foreman played by Jerome Cowan. He’d like nothing better than to get James Cagney back running the operation. His main problem is that Cagney has had enough of his double dealing tactics and is headed back to America on the next ship sailing from it’s South American port.
Looking for adventure and money we have Ann Sheridan arriving who quickly finds she has an enemy in O’Brien who seems to run everything from the local police chief to the nightclub where she treats us to a song and dance routine. He promptly has her fired and put aboard ship with Cagney. Fireworks are sure to begin.
Utilizing the patented rapid afire delivery he became known for, O’Brien talks Cagney into staying with the company for a couple extra weeks. With Sheridan jumping ship and stowing away aboard a train with Cagney the tropics are about to have the temperature go up a few extra degrees. It’s going to be a love/hate relationship between our main couple with plenty of curves thrown their way led by Helen Vinson practically throwing herself at the mustached Cagney. The two women quickly bare their claws and the insults begin flying. Sheridan is quick to point out concerning Vinson, “All a guy has to do is wink at you and he thinks he’s hit the jackpot.”
There’s sure to be adventure with Cagney acting tough and trying to take down bandit Tobias while at the same time fence with both Sheridan and the untrustworthy tactics of off screen pal O’Brien. To lighten the mood and serving as Cagney’s sidekick the cast includes Andy Devine with his whiny meandering style. Early on it’s rather amusing to see him attempting buffoonish come on lines at lovely Ann. Sorry Andy. She’s out of you’re league.
Far from the streets of Chicago and the gangster element offers us a change of pace with our trio of leads. The film moves at a brisk pace and is never boring thanks to each actor playing to their strengths. Cagney comes out swinging when needed, Sheridan talks a tough game but melts at the touch of the right man and O’Brien never stops for a breath of air when barking his lines. It adds up to an enjoyable 88 minute programmer from the trio’s home studio.
I get the feeling the movie almost mirrors Cagney’s relationship with Jack Warner. History tells us they always seemed to be odds while Cagney was under contract over the direction his career and roles were taking him. O’Brien’s role serves as a good impression of Warner here as he’s always bickering with Jimmy and attempting to hold out another carrot to keep Cagney under his thumb and the rule of the company. Apparently Cagney wore the mustache just to annoy the front office. Wallis wanted it off as he felt Cagney didn’t look as tough with the pencil thin Gable look.
This might have been a film that would have benefited from being photographed in color. It’s jungle setting and Ann Sheridan would have been better served by James Wong Howe’s photography by way of house director William Keighley in technicolor.
To get around the sensors there are some great sexual innuendos buried in the script to enjoy here.
O’Brien in reference to Cagney : He’s probably playing tag with some dame.”
Devine : “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
O’Brien : “The way he plays it there is.”
Tailoring the script to market the off screen personalities of the day, Cagney gets the line “You and your fourteen karat oomph.” to his on screen love Ann.
All three of the leads played opposite each other in various studio projects but it is good friends Cagney and O’Brien who appeared a number of times together from thirties fare like The Irish In Us right up to Cagney’s 1980 return to theaters after a twenty year break in Ragtime.
Catch this one if you can for a slight comical diversion featuring the legendary Cagney presence.