Sunday 28 October 2007

Passport to Suez (1943) André De Toth

Through unfortunate ineptitude on my part, I managed to screw up recording the last couple of Lone Wolf movies on TCM, so I'm a little behind. Passport to Suez was Warren William's ninth and final outing as Michael Lanyard before he handed over the reins to Gerald Mohr. We're in Alexandria during the war and Lanyard is firmly on the side of the good guys, carrying on surreptitious yet official business while Jamison has premonitions of evil. Given that North Africa and the Suez Canal were key locations, the setting is spot on. As Valerie King points out, 'Whoever wins Africa wins the war'.

This is a Lone Wolf movie with Warren William and Eric Blore so it was always going to be fun, but beyond the fluff, is it actually any good? Well my initial thoughts on seeing Johnny Booth's bar were that Casablanca was originally intended as a B movie, but if that was a B movie this must rate a few letters further down the alphabet. Even at the hands of a director like André De Toth, and with actors in the cast like Lloyd Bridges and Ann Savage, this fails to spark. The script has hints of strength but it seems wasted. The lack of soundtrack for much of the film is a major failing.

The Casablanca comparisons continue throughout the film and as you'd expect this film loses out every single time. I ended up wondering about how to recast the film. Sheldon Leonard fits his role as the club owner Johnny Booth; Bogart would have been better, but that casting would have been obvious. Anyway, the rest needing refinement. Peter Lorre would have imbued further nuances into the role of Rembrandt. Jay Novello is good as Cezanne but Elisha Cook Jr would have been better still. Alternatively Lorre could have been Cezanne and Sidney Greenstreet could have played Rembrandt: the knife throwing scene would have been awesome given that combination. To avoid yet another Lorre/Greenstreet pairing, how about Orson Welles as Rembrandt instead of Big Sid?

I've enjoyed Ann Savage's roles in a few films, not least the powerful shot-for-nothing Detour but she doesn't really get her teeth into this one. She's a little too ice cold and a little too suspicious, and she gets precious little screen time too. I was picturing Ginger Rogers in the part, as I've always wanted to see her walk on the dangerous side, but she'd have to have a bigger and more subtle role. I could have seen Dwight Frye as Whistler, the third spy with a painter's name. At the end of the day, so much promise but so little delivery.

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