Sinners in Paradise


1h 4m 1938

Brief Synopsis

A seaplane departs for China. On board are a nurse escaping a loveless marriage to do work with refugees, a woman hoping to surprise her estranged son, a wealthy heiress trying to distance herself from labor troubles, an oily politician, a moll and a mobster fleeing the wrath of the gangs they've double-crossed, two rival munitions salesmen out to cash in on the misery of war, and a fresh-faced young steward. Caught in a course-altering storm, a crash-landing destroys the plane, kills the plane's officers, and tosses the surviving passengers into the sea. They are washed ashore on an isolated island inhabited solely by mysteriously reclusive Mr. Taylor and his servant, Ping. Until Taylor decides if, how and when he will allow them to take his boat back to China for help, this disparate band must work together, change their self-centered ways, and examine their motives for wanting to escape from the island and their pasts.

Film Details

Also Known As
Eye of the Needle, Half Way to Shanghai, Secrets of a Sinner
Release Date
May 6, 1938
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 4m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

Eight Americans on board a Transpacific Express flight all have secret reasons for leaving the States. When the airplane crashes during a storm over the Pacific Ocean and the flight officers are killed, the passengers land on a deserted island 1,500 miles from Shanghai. The only boat on the island belongs to Jim Taylor, a man with a secret past who resents the castaways' invasion of his solitude. Shortly after the crash, a radio news bulletin reveals the castaways' true identities and motivations: Doris Bailey is really Thelma Chase, an industrial heiress who abandoned a strike of 6,000 employees in her Detroit factories; Robert Malone, known in the underworld as "The Torpedo," is fleeing with $150,000 after the Mafia took out a contract on his life; Iris Compton is a gang moll whom the law is seeking as an informant; Harrison Brand and T. L. Honeyman are competing munitions salesmen who are lobbying Senator John P. Corey, another stranded passenger, for his support; Anne Wesson is a nurse who left her husband to work for the Red Cross; and middle-aged Mrs. Franklin Sydney is going to Shanghai to visit her son Thomas, who is supposedly in the army and from whom she hasn't heard in a year. Jim insists his visitors fend for themselves, but they convince him to allow his servant Ping to sail them to Shanghai in shifts. Determined to get off the island first, Brand and Honeyman attack and shoot Jim. While Anne tends Jim's wounds, he asks her to wait with him for three months until the boat returns. Brand and Honeyman then force Ping to take them on the boat alone, and as Jim and Malone fire at the departing boat, Mrs. Sydney is shot in the crossfire. Honeyman finds a newspaper clipping on the boat that says Jim is really a surgeon from Shanghai who was convicted of the murder of Thomas Sydney, a member of the Chinese underworld, and escaped from prison a year ago. Honeyman and Brand then plot to bring Jim in to the Shanghai authorities. On land, Mrs. Sydney dies unaware of her son's errant ways. Meanwhile, Thelma complains about doing more than her share of the work on the island and goes on strike. After Jim and Anne fall in love, he tells her that Thomas caused an innocent patient of his to commit suicide and that it was the woman's brother, not he, who killed him. When Ping's boat runs out of gas, the men attack him. During the scuffle, the mast falls. On land, Jim promises to stay with Anne forever. Malone and Iris begin to burn Malone's ill-gotten money out of love for each other, but a boat appears on the horizon so they save the cash, planning to marry in Hong Kong. Ping returns alone with the news that Brand and Honeyman fell overboard, then dies. Thelma learns sympathy for the proletariat, while the senator starts writing a book about his adventures. With three of the castaways dead, there is enough room in the boat for all to return to society. Anne convinces Jim he must face life, and they leave the island together.

Film Details

Also Known As
Eye of the Needle, Half Way to Shanghai, Secrets of a Sinner
Release Date
May 6, 1938
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 4m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Quotes

My name is Malone.
- Malone
Does it make you happy?
- Iris

Trivia

Notes

The title of Harold Buckley's original screen story was "Half Way to Shanghai," which was the film's working title, along with Eye of the Needle. According to Screen Achievements Bulletin, there was a dispute among the film's writers over film credit: originally, Lester Cole, Harold Buckley and Louis Stevens were credited with screenplay, and Robert Lee Johnson was listed as a contributing writer. Cole and Buckley protested Stevens' credit, however, and on March 30, 1938, the credits were amended to exclude him. Stevens retaliated, however, and the original credits were restored. The Motion Picture Herald review for this film states, "The villains, if any, are the munitions salesmen, a circumstance in seeming consonance with the present attitude of Hollywood producers toward young men who sell cannon for a living." According to a modern source, this film was one of two "B" pictures James Whale was obligated to make to complete the terms of his contract at Universal. (The second was Wives Under Suspicion, see below.) Assigned his cast and crew, Whale reportedly dubbed these films his "punishment pictures." According to a news item in Variety on November 22, 1950, this film was re-issued as Secrets of a Sinner.