Wednesday, March 3, 2021

SENSATION HUNTERS (Charles Vidor, 1933)


Dale and her gal-pal Jerry know bullshit when they hear it but must travel to Panama to make a living mired in the Bull Pit. Charles Vidor directs a standard melodrama without flash or style yet this allows the two lead actors, Arline Judge (Jerry) and Marion Burns (Dale) to deliver their burlesque with verbose finesse.

Dale is stuck with a one-way ticket to Panama, a cabaret singer with Trixie’s troupe of social degenerates (an opinion voiced by the snobbish socialites on board the ship which includes her paramour!), who is just trying to make her own way in a mean old world. And fuck, the world does get vicious for our willful protagonists! She rooms with the street-wise Jerry and the two become inseparable as Dale’s wide-eyed innocence is offset by Jerry’s clenched fists and barbed retorts: they become independent together. But Panama is a hot mess of groping and drunken men wanting more than a dance and a pretty face. Soon, Dale’s love interest Tom is on his way back home and another man vies for her affections with his affectations: Jimmy is a pilot there to test a new airplane. Dale vows to try to love him as he seems decent enough but her heart belongs to Tom. Jerry meanwhile cracks wise and cracks jaws while lamenting her long lost husbands, the first of which has been lost in faraway Shanghai unable to speak a word of Chinese.

But what’s a Pre-Code melodrama without undeserved tragedy? Just as Dale decides to run back to the States with Jimmy, hedging her bets that she can learn to love him, he crashes and burns when he discovers his wife (of course he’s married!) won’t grant him a divorce. Now Dale and Jerry are in dire straits because Trixie has expunged them from her show and they’re stuck in an even more debauched and seedy bar trying to earn their pay back to the good old USA. But the police raid the bar looking for a suspect and Jerry gets stuck with a knife. She begs Dale to take the money and run home but our heroine stays by her friend’s side, using their savings for her medical bills. And just as Dale decides that prostitution is her last resort to earning their freedom from Panama’s canal, Tom shows up (thanks to Jerry!) and saves the day. But Jerry meets good fortune too as her first husband returns from the Orient, once a lowly subordinate now an Admiral in the Chinese Navy! It’s a laugh-out-loud moment of reckoning and balances the tragedy they’ve experienced so far.

Final Grade: (C+)