Saturday, December 03, 2016

I Escaped From Devil's Island

Sweat and sadism abound in this lean slice of pulp set in French Guiana in 1918. Every frame looks like a Mort Kunstler cover painting for STAG, and director William Witney and screenwriter Richard Adams (THE SLAMS) play up the machismo for maximum effect. Blood and beatings fill most scenes, though I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL'S ISLAND manages to slow down long enough for star Jim Brown to play footsie with a randy Indian widow.

Brown (SLAUGHTER) stars as LeBras, an individualistic black prisoner forced to endure intense manual labor and daily beatings by the brutal guards, who are sanctioned by one-armed warden Marteau (Paul Richards). Fed up, LeBras escapes into the surf on a raft sewn together with animal skins. Along for the ride are gay couple Jo Jo (THE YOUNG REBELS star Rick Ely) and Dazzas (veteran TV heavy James Luisi) and Commie pacifist Devert (Christopher George), who starts the movie believing the prison’s harsh conditions can be tamed through words.

Brown is his typical tight-lipped self and carries most of the action, leaving it to George (THE RAT PATROL), playing against type as a political prisoner who abhors violence, to shore up the adventure trappings with a thin slab of social commentary. PAPILLON, which opened shortly after, was the obvious inspiration for this old-fashioned potboiler produced by brothers Roger and Gene Corman. It was one of the last features directed by William Witney, who made Republic’s best serials in the 1930s and ‘40s, including SPY SMASHER and THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL. The Acapulco-lensed adventure has serial-like pacing, introducing the escapees to a wild succession of obstacles in their flight from the titular island, including sharks, lepers, sex-crazed natives, and corrupt policemen. Backed by a pompous Les Baxter score, I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL’S ISLAND plays just as crudely as its blunt title implies, and thank goodness for it.

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