Thursday, July 28, 2022

White Savage (1943)

White Savage (also released as White Captive) is included in the new three-movie Kino Lorber Maria Montez Blu-Ray set. When this movie was released Maria Montez was at the height of her popularity.

Montez, daughter of a Spanish diplomat, had a brief but spectacular Hollywood career in the mid-1940s. Her movies were mostly lightweight adventure/romances in exotic settings but they were just what the movie-going public wanted.

You have to remember that until the 1960s overseas travel was hopelessly out of the reach of most ordinary people. The only way they ever got to see exotic places was on the movie screen, and naturally they adored movies that offered them a glimpse of places they would never get to see in real life. Of course what they got to see was a Hollywood fantasy version of faraway places but audiences didn’t mind.

White Savage
takes place in a setting that is pure Hollywood. It’s a group of islands. This imaginary island chain could be in the Caribbean, in the Pacific or in the Indian Ocean. The culture is a mishmash of just about every island culture imaginable.

The islands are ruled by Princess Tahia (Montez). She does a pretty good job. Her people are happy. There are however some lies in the ointment. The first is her worthless spoilt kid brother Tamara (Turhan Bey). His gambling threatens the survival of this island paradise since he’s prepared to gamble away the deeds to the most important island.

The second threat comes from Miller (Thomas Gomez). He wants Tahia but mostly he wants what is at the bottom of the Sacred Pool on Temple Island - a fabulous treasure in gold and jewels.

Shark fisherman Kaloe (Jon Hall) has a problem as well. He wants the shark fishing rights to the waters surrounding the Temple Island and the princess refuses to grant him those rights.

He confronts the princess. Naturally (this being that sort of movie) they clash at first but there is also a strong physical attraction between them. The princess thinks Kaloe is insufferable but rather hunky. He thinks she’s arrogant and headstrong but totally gorgeous.

We know that love is going to blossom between these two but the evil machinations of Miller put some major obstacles in their way. Miller will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get that treasure.

The screenplay (by Richard Brooks) is pretty predictable but this is a fluffy feelgood movie so that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the film (shot in Technicolor) looks exquisite and has the right mixture of adventure, romance and humour.

Maria Montez was very good at playing princesses and she’s a sympathetic heroine. Her acting range was limited but movies such as this were well within her capabilities. All she really needed to do was to be beautiful, glamorous, exotic, fiery and passionate and she had no difficulty whatsoever doing just that.

Jon Hall is a fine conventional hero, perhaps a bit of a rough diamond but with a good heart. Turhan Bey does well as the wretched loser Tamara. Sabu plays Kaloe’s good-natured but occasionally exasperating young friend Orano.

Thomas Gomez is a good villain - sinister enough but not too sinister (this is a lighthearted movie). Sidney Toler plays Wong. He’s the island’s notary public, lawyer, detective and doctor and in fact performs just about every possible function. Toler plays him exactly the way he played Charlie Chan, which is OK because he was a great Charlie Chan and his performance is a delight.

Maria Montez’s movies for Universal are occasionally described as B-movies but they’re actually A-pictures, albeit modesty budgeted ones. No movie shot in Technicolor in the mid-40s can be described as a B-picture. Universal spent enough money on the film to give it a suitably lush feel. Universal knew they really couldn’t go far wrong when they teamed Maria Montez, Jon Hallo and Sabu and they teamed them frequently.

Kino Lorber have provided a superb transfer. All three movies come on a single disc which is no problem since the running times for each film are around the hour-and-quarter mark.

Movies don’t come much more lightweight than White Savage but it’s romantic and it’s fun. Great escapist fare, highly recommended.

I've reviewed other Maria Montez movies - Arabian Nights (1942) and Siren of Atlantis (1949), both of which are even better.

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