Sensation Hunters (1933)

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Unsuitable liaisons?
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US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Charles Vidor Pr: Robert Welsh Scr: Paul Schofield, Albert E. DeMond Story: “Cabaret” (original story) by Whitman Chambers Cine: Sid Hickox Cast: Arline Judge, Preston Foster, Marion Burns, Kenneth McKenna (i.e., Kenneth MacKenna), Juanita Hansen, Creighton Hale, Cyril Chadwick, Nella Walker, Harold Minjir, Finis Barton, Zoila Conan, Sam Flint, Walter Brennan.

This bears no relation to Sensation Hunters (1945) dir Christy Cabanne, with Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay and Nestor Paiva. Where the later movie is a good minor film noir, this one is a pre-Code romantic melodrama punctuated by a couple of musical interludes.

On a ship bound for Panama from San Francisco, pausing at Los Angeles, demure Dale Jordan (Burns) attracts the attention of the male passengers, such as the exaggeratedly English uppercrust blowhard Upson (Chadwick) and the snobbish Hal Grayson (Minjir), who’s traveling with his even more snobbish sister (Barton) and his quite terminally snobbish mother (Walker).

Cyril Chadwick as Upson.

When the Graysons discover Dale is to join the troupe of cabaret artistes that’s joining the ship at Los Angeles, the two women drop her like a hot potato and Hal, after unsuccessfully trying his luck—because “everyone knows” cabaret girls are easy—does likewise.

Hal Grayson (Harold Minjir) dances with his sister (Finis Barton).

Nella Walker as Mrs. Grayson, mortified by her son’s narrow escape.

But Hal’s departure from the would-be romantic scene allows fellow-passenger Tom Baylor (Foster) to strike up an acquaintance with Dale. As the ship nears Panama they’re just about ready to plight their troth, but then Tom mansplains the dangers of the cabaret life to her and things cool rather dramatically.

Preston Foster as Tom.

Meanwhile, the troupe, led by aggressive manageress Trixie Snell (Hansen), has joined the ship, and Dale is now bunking with one of the top performers, brassy Jerry Royal (Judge). The two become fast friends.

Performing at the swanky Bull Ring Café in Panama City, Dale (inevitably) becomes the star attraction. Although she still loves the absent Tom, she’s drawn also to exhibition pilot Jimmy Crosby (MacKenna). At first Jimmy seeks only to bed her—he has a $100 bet with Trixie that he’ll succeed—but his interest becomes serious, and eventually he offers marriage.

Kenneth MacKenna (left) as Jimmy Crosby, with Creighton Hale as his best friend, Bill Burton.

But then Jimmy gets bad news—his wife Elizabeth still refuses to divorce him—and dies (suicidally?) in a plane crash. Dale and Jerry, fired by Trixie, try to make a living in other, seedier cabaret joints around Panama City. Jerry gets in the way of a hurtling knife during a bar-room brawl. Dale faces up to the fact that the only way a girl like her will be able to pay Jerry’s hospital bills is to turn to prostitution . . .

Preston Foster as Tom wooing Marion Burns as Dale.

This was Kenneth MacKenna’s last movie before a long hiatus from the screen that lasted until 1960’s High Time dir Blake Edwards, in which he had a minor part. Marion Burns was another to experience a long gap in her screen career: she made a bundle of movies between 1931 and 1935, then made just two more cinema appearances, in 1938 and 1945, both uncredited, followed by three minor TV roles between 1956 and 1961. She’s best remembered today for the two westerns she made with John Wayne: The Dawn Rider (1935) and Paradise Canyon (1935), neither of which I’ve seen.

Marion Burns as Dale.

There are a few quite enjoyable pre-Code moments here, mainly of the double entendre variety:

Trixie: “Hi, skipper. How’s your ol’ compass?”

Arline Judge (left) as Jerry and Juanita Hansen as Trixie.

Aside from that, this is a pretty mediocre offering, notable really only for the opportunity it offers to see one of Burns’s few screen outings. She shows she not only can act but, assuming she wasn’t dubbed, can also sing a bit.

Arline Judge as Jerry.

Whitman Chambers (1896–1968), who wrote the story upon which this movie was based, was a moderately prolific writer of pulp fiction, producing westerns and sea adventures before arriving in the genre for which he’s best known, the crime novel. A number of his novels were filmed, including

  • The Campanile Murders (1933) as Murder on the Campus (1933),
  • Once Too Often (1938; vt Murder Lady) as BLONDE ICE (1948) and
  • The Come-On (1953) as The COME ON (1956).

He also scripted or co-scripted movies including

  • SHADOW OF A WOMAN (1946),
  • BIG TOWN AFTER DARK (1947),
  • MANHANDLED (1949),
  • SPECIAL AGENT (1949) and
  • The COME ON (1956),

the last of these being based on his own novel. For perhaps the most famous movie that he co-scripted, Howard Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (1944), his contribution went uncredited. There’s a good roundup (in French) of his writing career here.

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