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Like every actor contracted to Warner Brothers in the early to mid 1930s, Humphrey Bogart worked a lot and, like many of them, not always to his satisfaction. In 1936 alone, he appeared in five movies. The year started out auspiciously enough, with his re-creation of his sensational Broadway performance as the killer Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936). It could have been a star-making turn, and it certainly raised Bogart's stock at Warners and in the profession, but as fellow cast member Bette Davis was all too aware, a critically praised performance was not always a guarantee of better roles at the studio. The professional and artistic goals of its contract players usually had to take a back seat to the company's practice of quickly turning out a high volume of pictures each year, so actors were cast in whatever was deemed commercially viable and expedient. Sometimes that worked out well for all concerned and sometimes it didn't.
Typecasting was one means of assuring return audiences, and Bogart was already becoming a reliable heavy, but that didn't mean he never had the opportunity to play a character outside of his usual box. In Isle of Fury (1936), he gets to play the hero, albeit someone with a criminal past, but with unexpectedly exotic and romantic trappings. Did this change of pace please the actor? Obviously it did not since in later years Bogart denied Isle of Fury was ever part of his repertoire. But here he is as a mustachioed South Seas pearl diver battling the most ridiculous-looking octopus ever put on screen.
Bogart plays Valentine "Val" Stevens, newly wed to Lucille Gordon when a shipwreck occurs near their Pacific island home. Val rescues two men, one of whom, Eric Blake, becomes both his friend and his rival for Lucille's love. Little does Val know, however, that Eric has actually been sent to arrest him for the crime he was accused of years before. The plot, then, offers opportunities to incorporate elements of mystery, adventure and action, and romantic melodrama (the theatrical trailer touted "the strangest love triangle ever filmed!").
The screenplay, under the working title "Three in Eden," was adapted by Robert Hardy Andrews and William Jacobs (future producer of a string of Doris Day hits for the studio in the early 50s) from The Narrow Corner, a short novel by W. Somerset Maugham. The story was filmed once before by Warner Brothers in 1933 under its original title (which was more faithful to Maugham's original novel), and starred Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ralph Bellamy.
Isle of Fury is among the least effective of the adaptations taken from Maugham's work. Far more worthy of the top critical and commercial reception given them were such Maugham film adaptations as Of Human Bondage (1934), The Letter (1940), The Painted Veil (1934, 2006), Being Julia (2004, based on Theatre), and various versions of the story about "scarlet woman" Sadie Thompson, played by Gloria Swanson (1928), Joan Crawford (1932), and Rita Hayworth (1953).
Director Frank McDonald was a reliable B unit craftsman at the studio, handling the popular Torchy Blane mystery-comedy series before moving over to Republic to direct several Roy Rogers pictures of the 1940s. Like many B movie directors of Hollywood's Golden Age, he finished out his career as a successful television director.
Some months prior to this picture, Margaret Lindsay was working on the film Murder by an Aristocrat (1936), also directed by Frank McDonald; however, she was so distraught over the mysterious death of her good friend Thelma Todd that she bowed out of that production. A lesbian who was relatively open about her sexuality at a time when most actors went to great pains to hide it, Lindsay's career never really reached the level of stardom. She did, however, have a long run in B productions and occasional noteworthy supporting roles in major releases such as Jezebel (1938), Scarlet Street (1945), and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960).
The year after making Isle of Fury things began looking up considerably for Bogart, with high-profile roles in Marked Woman, Kid Galahad both with Bette Davis and Dead End.
Director: Frank McDonald
Producer: Bryan Foy (uncredited)
Screenplay: Robert Hardy Andrews, William Jacobs, based on the novel The Narrow Corner by W. Somerset Maugham
Cinematography: Frank Good
Editing: Warren Low
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Val Stevens), Margaret Lindsay (Lucille), Donald Woods (Eric Blake), E.E. Clive (Dr. Hardy), Paul Graetz (Capt. Deever).
by Rob Nixon