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South of Pago Pago

USA 1940
produced by
Edward Small for Edward Small Productions/United Artists
directed by Alfred E. Green
starring Victor McLaglen, Jon Hall, Frances Farmer, Olympe Bradna, Gene Lockhart, Douglass Dumbrille, Francis Ford, Ben Welden, Abner Biberman, Pedro de Cordoba, Rudy Robles, Bobby Stone, Nellie Duran, James Flavin, Nina Campana, James B. Leong, Harry Woods, Al Kikume
written by George Bruce, music by Edward Ward

review by
Mike Haberfelner

With the help of femme fatale Ruby (Frances Farmer), Captain Bucko Larson (Victor McLaglen) and his compagnion Williams (Douglass Dumbrille) get the location of a large pearl field off naive Manuel (Abner Biberman) and feed him to the sharks in the process, then heading to a South Seas island paradise, where they are welcomed by peaceful natives led by Kehane (Jon Hall), and providing them with a boatload of presents, they have no problems finding themselves enough pearldivers to do their work. But unfortunately, the first pearl field they try to exploit proves to be a dud, so they redirect their divers to another pearlfield - that's rich in pearls but a tad too deep for the divers, and when one of them almost dies under water, Kehane puts a taboo on diving for pearls. So Larson and Williams concoct a plan: While Kehane's engaged to his childhood friend Malia (Olympe Bradna), he has designs for Ruby - so why not exploit that, have Ruby snatch Kehane away from the island for a couple of days to provide the natives with enough alcohol to make them forget Kehane's taboo and provide the white men with pearls upon pearls for the sake of partying. And the plan works like a charm, at least at first, but then Lindsay (Gene Lockhart), white jungle doctor among the natives, sees through his fellow white men's ruse, and persuades Kehane's father (Pedro de Cordoba), the old chief, to interfere - which he does, and is shot, which leads to an outrage among the now leaderless natives.

Meanwhile, Kehane has taken Ruby to another island to marry her after native customs, and while she at first thought the idea ridiculous, she soon realises she might be able to find happiness she has always sought for on the island and with Kehane, and as her hardened facade begins to crumble, she's overcome by guilt. Eventually, she persuades Kehane to return to his island. There he's quick to resume command. Meanwhile, Ruby pays a visit to Lindsay, who has been severely wounded by Larson and company, and overcome by guilt, she plays a rouse on Kehane, claiming he was just her plaything for a while, and virtually pushes Malia into his arms.

Larson thinks he and his men (and Ruby) can sit out the native attack on their boat, as they have superior firepower, but Kehane might be naive, but he's also cunning, and soon enough his natives have managed to board the boat, and attack quite ferociously. When Larson tries to shoot Kehane, Ruby throws herself into the bullet's way, giving her life for his. The white intruders are soon overcome and killed, and their boat with their bodies and a warning is sent back to civilisation - but Kehane insists on Ruby's dead body to be buried with all the braves of his tribe ...

 

Of course, South of Pago Pago is pretty much what the title suggests, exotic adventure kitsch, somewhat modeled after Jon Hall's earlier South Seas adventure Hurricane without ever achieving that film's inherent quality. Taken by its own merits though, South of Pago Pago isn't too bad though, it's a very routine escapist adventure that follows an established formula a bit too closely, but being mostly shot on location and graced with well-lensed diving scenes, the film delivered in terms of production value, and Frances Farmer in the key role gives a believable performance and is given an actual character ark. That said, of course there are better adventure movies from the 1940s out there, but it's an ok trip down memory lane all the same.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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