Port Sinister (1953)

This one usually gets lumped with another RKO film from the year before, Captive Women:  both were written and produced by Jack Pollexfen (who did the same for a far superior 1951 film, The Man from Planet X); both are quite short, just over an hour; and both were very cheap.

This is the lesser film of the two, although it is also rather more fun to watch.  Hey, it happens.  While Captive Women offered a fairly complicated post-apocalyptic world, brought to the screen with mattes, models and a few largish sets, Port Sinister takes us to a lost island covered with lots of indistinguishable (and one suspects, interchangable) rocks (okay, okay, it’s supposed to be coral.  It just looks like Hollywood’s idea of rocks).

But, these rocks are shaken by earthquakes, split open at inopportune moments, shrouded in mists, venting steam, bursts of flame, and any other natural geological process that can be reproduced on a sound stage.  So this rather generic rocky background becomes a constant, visually interesting, confusion of practical effects and Papier-mâché (or is it, like The Land of the Lost TV series cave walls that the cast weren’t allowed to lean against, just aluminum foil?  It’s hard to tell). That’s more than enough to distinguish this one from your typical lost island film.

The island in question is Port Royal, an infamous 18th Century pirates’ colony, which sank into the sea 200 years earlier.  However, every so often, the geologic forces which caused its subsidence in the first place bring it back to the surface, where it remains for several days or hours before sinking again.  Brilliant scientist (we know he’s brilliant because it is that sort of film) Tony Ferris thinks he’s figured out when it will reappear again, and, although most of his colleagues think the story is a myth, he manages to convince the head of the oceanographic institute to finance an expedition.

Unfortunately, there is one person who doesn’t need to be convinced of Tony’s story – the gangster who disrupted his last attempt to reach the island.  He wants the treasure buried there – and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it for himself.  So naturally, he waylays Tony and hijacks the ship to the island without him.

This forces Tony to hire the services of a reckless ex-pilot, willing to brave the storm of the century in a battered plane – and without a pilot’s license.

Throw in a beautiful scientist who doubts Tony’s theory but is sent along as the institute’s representative; a few spare beautiful females shoehorned into the story wherever they could find a space; and a very big crab which has taken up residence in the island’s treasure vault; along with various bits of running and sneaking about, the absolutely necessary skeleton in Spanish armor, a tense trip across a thin, barely-cooled crust of lava over quicksand (which mostly looks like a lot of ground level mist), and a sailing trip in a seaplane, using a parachute for a sail (mind you, we only see the “sail” in a very distant long shot, where it’s hard to be certain whether that thing on top of the wing is actually meant to be a sail).  Perhaps, however, Port Sinister‘s greatest virtue is that it is short enough that it never gets dull, or has time to think about how goofy it all is.  Certainly no one seems interested in the fact that a girl in tight shorts climbing over a coral-encrusted lost city would get her legs badly slashed up in the process.

Unfortunately, it is as hard to find as Captive Women, and the collectors’ prints that exist are very, very dark.  So dark that it is hard, at times, to see exactly what is going on.  MGM owns the rights to this one, and it seems mildly surprising that they never released it as part of the their Midnight Movies DVD series (with or without Captive Women).  I suspect that their source material is probably just as bad – there are a lot of movies out there that haven’t been released, not because they are lost, but because they desperately need lots of restoration work, but aren’t considered important enough for anyone to sink the money into them.  Sad really.

Oh, well.  It isn’t a great movie, but it is entertaining in a modest, B-movie sort of way, the sort of movie to catch when you aren’t feeling picky and are hoping for some breezy dumb fun.

You’ll just have to put up with the lousy prints that’s all



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