It had been twenty years since Oscar winners Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland had shared the screen together by the time they reunited in this ultra low budget affair that has a certain amount of charm to it thanks to the pair’s on screen chemistry that is still evident here in their later years.
Coming across as an AIP release minus Frankie and Annette, this made in Jamaica effort proved to be the final film directed by William Dieterle. A man whose career goes back to the glory days of WB helming films like The Life of Emile Zola, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Portrait of Jennie for David O. Selznick.
Utilizing a cartoon opening to get the story started had me thinking I might be tuning into an alternate Clouseau film of the era but we’ll soon see Milland making arrangements to buy information on the supposed lost treasure of Tolino. This leads him to a small countryside village where Miss Rogers serves as the local Madam of a popular bordello. Popular amongst the men in town including the Mayor, Michael Ansara, and Vinton Hayworth as the town banker. Both of whom are shady and looking out for number one.
The film revolves around a young Barbara Eden as one of Rogers’ ladies of the night. Innocent and drop dead beautiful, Eden finds herself pregnant and rejected from the father Carl Schell after she refuses to go to America with him. And if you think you recognize Schell’s mute pal with the curly black hair you’d be right. It’s Elliott Gould making his film debut using sign language and gestures to get through the film.
In short order Milland cons Ansara into letting him strengthen the centuries old Catholic church that has been damaged in a recent earthquake. More specifically the large statue of St. Joseph that watches over it. Of course beneath the holy figure is where the treasure lays and Ray has been in an underground cavern at the foot of the statue digging up gold coins. While he’s striking it rich Eden turns to the statue to pray after being rejected by her man and turned out by Rogers’ for not aborting the child. Harsh I know but what charm the film does convey is about to begin when Milland answers her questions from below. She’ll faint and like a good Samaritan he’ll place a number of gold coins in her kerchief. When she awakens and tells her story with the gold to prove it the town at first questions her story but can’t disprove it. Especially with the rare and long sought after coins in her possession.
While the town is going into a religious frenzy on the possibility of a modern day miracle, Milland has turned lover and flirted his way into Rogers’ heart. Turns out Milland’s a bit of a stud because the script has me believing he’s visiting her night after night over an extended period and she’s more than receptive to his advances. She knows what he’s up to and what he’s done where Eden is concerned so could she be just after the money?
When Ansara takes a shot at praying to the St. Joseph statue and confessing his sins of fraud and stealing from the townsfolk, he’s in for a major surprise when a voice from below tells him “to make restitution.” He too now believes there’s a miracle at work here and against the wishes of the equally crooked town banker begins to make amends to the poor and misguided citizens of his community.
Eden’s standing in the community has drastically changed from prostitute to almost martyr like stature. Especially with the wives whose husbands were regular bordello clients. Now there’s a fight going on as to which woman can proudly proclaim the unborn child is that of their own husbands. Yes religion has been turned on it’s ear for the balance of the film. And when Bishop Cecil Kellaway arrives to confirm a miracle has taken place, things are surely about to unravel.
At the time of this production, Barbara Eden, was on the cusp of television stardom in I Dream of Jeannie. For that reason alone I’m surprised to see that according to the trivia section on the film at the IMDB the film was shelved until a distributor picked it up for a release in 1971. Eden was at the time married to her costar Ansara when this movie was shot. Their marriage lasted from 1958 till 1974. I should think the rise of Gould’s star in the early 70’s might have played a major part in the film being rescued from oblivion and put into movie houses.
Far from hilarious there are still some pretty “cute” scenes in this 96 minute comedy. One of which has Rogers unleashing her girls on a psychiatrist who has come to have Eden committed as a lunatic at the behest of Ansara and Hayworth who of course want the coins and the whereabouts of the lost treasure. And again the word “cute” can be used to describe almost all of the scenes that Ray and Ginger share together for the first time since 1944’s Lady In the Dark. Their other film together was the Billy Wilder hit comedy The Major and the Minor (1942). They truly appear to be enjoying themselves and I’d like to think visiting this set between takes might have offered some nostalgic stories for classic film lovers.
Reminding me of the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey due to the whole town getting involved in the circus that has descended upon them, this was a first time viewing for me of what I can only gather is a lesser known title for the personalities involved. I found a DVD copy from VCI that had me scratching my head and thinking aloud once the movie was over, “Where the heck was Jack Carson?” His names on the back cover. Then again I should have known better, Carson had passed away just two days into 1963. Just reinforces the fact that movie fans/buffs should be hired by these companies to ensure everything is correct before they go to market. Not only that but they omitted Elliott Gould’s name and he does get a fair amount of screen time.
No great shakes but an amusing plot line and if your a Rogers, Milland or Eden completist than you’ll want to snag a copy.