Film: Very Good
Transfer: Very Good
Region: 0 (NTSC)
Released: February 5, 2003
Synopsis: A mysterious figure leads a group of prisoners and a hostaged couple through the South American jungle.
Special Features: Double-billed with Escape to Burma (1955) / Theatrical trailers for Escape to Burma (1955), Slightly Scarlet (1956), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Pearl of the South Pacific (1955), and Silver Lode (1954).
Jacques Tourneur’s career was given a big boost at RKO, especially when he directed a series of low-budget shockers for their B-division, namely Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Leopard Man (1943), and although he moved into westerns and eventually TV, Tourneur ultimately became known for crafting atmospheric films using light and shadow in place of kinetic action and effects-boosted sequences.
Appointment in Honduras is an upper-B / low-A level picture that starred actors in mid-career, but producer Benedict Bogeaus had the acumen to milk Los Angeles’ local arboretum and botanical garden for all its worth, resulting in a production that feels authentic once the actors are transplanted to the story’s jungle setting.
The script by Karen DeWolf (the Blondie series) and story by one-timers Mario Silveira and Jack Cornall is exceptionally rudimentary: tough and creepy Jim Corbett (Glenn Ford) unshackles a merchant ship’s human cargo – Guatemalan prisoners – who aide him in escaping by dinghy to the South American peninsula and make a trek for their home country, although unbeknownst to the rag-tag crooks, Corbett is taking them deep into Honduras, and hides a fortune in cash in a money belt.
Dragged along for the dangerous boat and land trek are Sylvia (Ann Sheridan) and Harry Sheppard (Zachary Scott), a bickering couple whose faux allegiances to their kidnappers shifts according to mood, jealousies, and potential to escape.
The opening scenes on the merchant ship are pretty phony – the lighting and background cyclorama do little to mask the indoor set – but once the group push their way by boat through a river infested with tiger fish, alligators, snakes, pumas, and loud birds, the film gets much more interesting, especially since Corbett knows the lead crook, Reyes (Rodolfo Acosta, who’s just marvelous), is no fool: whoever dies, Reyes has placed himself to not only have the upper hand, but maybe earn some quick cash for an easy ransom for the wealthy couple.
No one is especially likable, but there’s a sense Corbett’s playing tough and gruff to stay alive, sometimes caring for Sylvia but more often keeping a distance, knowing a jealous husband will only want revenge, especially when his wife won’t stop hovering around a rival.
Sheridan may well have been cast to create a simulated re-teaming of Ford and Rita Hayworth – her red hair, makeup, and resemblance are too coincidental to shrug off, and like noir veteran Ford, Scott had appeared in his own share of prominent classics (notably Mildred Pierce). The film also balances drama with ridiculous sexism – Sheridan only changes from her nightie and nightgown around the film’s midpoint – and little dollops of contrived danger. To enliven the story, the characters narrowly miss being devoured by tiger fish (an alligator is graphically not so lucky), encounter an anthill of fire jungle ants and later a cloudy mass of bugs (both are animated rather cleverly onscreen).
The reasons for Corbett’s secrecy is revealed close to the finale, as are the final man-to-man combats between Corbett, Sheppard, and Reyes. It doesn’t sound especially kinetic, but Tourneur emphasizes the shifting positions of dominance among the characters to keep the story interesting, and he uses colour film like a painter: non unlike Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace), pools of iridescent amber, greens, and reds pop from the screen, exploding the depth of Technicolor, even in night shots with a singular campfire.
Louis Forbes’ music is part melodic and lush, part brooding and dissonant, and matches the fine cinematography by Joseph Biroc, a master at location cinematography (Emperor of the North), colour (Viva Las Vegas), and exotica (Bwana Devil).
Some of the faces in the strong cast include Jack Elam (Edge of Eternity, Support Your Local Sheriff) as one of the escaped prisoners, and an unbilled Stuart Whitman (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) playing the merchant ship’s soon-to-be-conked-out telegraph operator.
VCI’s transfer is adequate – in spite of the strong colours, there’s visible DNR on reels suffering from grain and slight graying at the frame edges – but between its companion film, Escape to Burma (1955), it’s the better-looking of the double bill of this themed RKO Adventure Classics set, originally released in 2003 and reissued as a MOD DVD-R by VCI.
The bonus trailers are all Bogeaus-produced films released at one time by VCI, and if the tone of the oversexed editing and ad copy is any indication, Bogeaus had a simple formula to sell pictures to fickle audiences: emphasize sex, conflicts, exotic locals, and action, and edit the montage into a fast-paced, lurid teaser with outrageously barked ad copy.
Bogeaus produced a variety of pictures up until 1961, but director Tourneur, cinematographer Biroc, and co-stars Scott and Sheridan would soon spend more time in episodic TV. Ford still had a lot of mileage in feature films, and would move into his second great wave of films, including Ransom! (1956), Jubal (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1959), and Experiment in Terror (1962).
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review