vt The Devil’s Playground
US / 57 minutes / bw / First National, Vitaphone Dir: William Beaudine Scr: Forrest Halsey, Kathryn Scola Story: Kenneth J. Saunders Cine: Tony Gaudio Cast: Billie Dove, Sidney Blackmer, Conway Tearle, Judith Vosselli, Cosmo Kyrle Bellew, Ivan Simpson, Lloyd Ingraham, Mathilde Comont.
Billie Dove as Margaret.
Charlie Townsend (Blackmer), US Vice-Consul to an unidentified South American country, takes his lovely wife Margaret (Dove) for granted, deserting her at every turn in favor of his duties. He doesn’t notice that, when internationally renowned big-game hunter Jack Norton (Tearle) arrives in town, there’s immediate electricity between Margaret and the newcomer.
Sidney Blackmer as Charlie.
Also in town is a top US Treasury Department agent, Farrell (Ingraham), who’s keen to grab Jack on the grounds that he’s not a big-game hunter at all, but a diamond smuggler. What Farrell doesn’t know, though we soon learn, is that Jack’s in cahoots with a disreputable local couple, Julianne (Vosselli) and Seton Boone-Fleming (Bellew)—not to mention the Boone-Fleming’s gorblimey English butler, Bert Perkins (Simpson). Moreover, what they’re smuggling isn’t diamonds. And, with Jack’s unwilling cooperation, the Boone-Flemings run a blackmail business on the side.
Conway Tearle as Jack.
Obviously, Jack’s manly appeal being what it is, Margaret looks a natural to be the next blackmail victim, her imagination already doubtless filled with visions of positions she could be compromised in.
Jack: “Mrs. Townsend, let me warn you that . . .”
Margaret: “Warn me of what?”
Jack: “That you set me on fire. Ever since I first met you . . .”
Margaret: “No. I think it was something else you were going to say . . .”
Holy moly! Is there going to be enough running time in this Pre-Code number to fit all the plot in?
Lloyd Ingraham as Farrell.
But here’s the odd thing. A common flaw among the lesser movies of this era is that they can take a while to get moving, although usually the second half zips along. In The Lady who Dared it’s the other way round: the first reel is reasonably pacy, but then around the midway point, things slow down as we find ourselves enmired in some seemingly interminable bits of earnest dialogue.
Judith Vosselli as Julianne.
Matters aren’t helped by Blackmer. Luckily, despite his second billing, Blackmer is in actuality just a support actor for Dove and Tearle. I couldn’t make up my mind if here he’s an actor skillfully portraying an insufferable stuffed shirt or just a hopeless stuffed shirt of an actor. In either event, his rendering of Charlie (sorry, Charles) Townsend is dull as ditchwater . . . assuming ditchwater can have an ego the size of a planet. It’s a brutal disappointment when, at the end of the movie, Margaret and Jack don’t defy stuffy morality and sail off into the sunset together.
Ivan Simpson as Bert Perkins.
The movie has some quite bizarrely implausible plotting toward the end, and is really worth watching only for Billie Dove’s performance. She’s not an actress I’ve much noticed before but is surely one I’ll be looking out for in future.