Edgar G. Ulmer’s Isle of Forgotten Sins (AKA Monsoon) is a typical example of Ulmer’s low-budget movies. Ulmer couldn’t do the spectacular visuals that he’d been able to do on his early big-budget movies like The Black Cat but he still managed to come up with a stylish and very entertaining (and rather outrageous) adventure romp.
Ulmer made the movie on a six-day schedule, which was more than enough time for Ulmer who was a master at making interesting movies on impossibly low budgets with impossibly tight shooting schedules.
Marge Willison (Gale Sondergaard) runs a bar, gambling joint and brothel called The Isle of Forgotten Sins on a South Pacific island. Marge is in love with Captain Mike Clancy (John Carradine), a rambunctious rogue who spends his life drinking, fighting and looking for ways to make easy money. When he recognises the voice of Captain Krogan (Sidney Toler) he thinks he’s found his chance. Krogan was the skipper of the Tropic Queen, which supposedly went down with all hands and with $3 million in gold bullion. But Captain Krogan and his purser are obviously very much alive and Mike figures that Krogan knows where the gold is.
In fact this is just what Krogan hoped would happen. His plan is to let Mike and his partner Jack, who are expert deep-sea divers, retrieve the gold and then Krogan and his confederates will steal it. Mike knows this was Krogan’s plan but he’s confident that he can outfox him.
Mike and Jack spend much of the movie trying to kill each other since they are rivals for Marge’s affections. Now they have to stop trying to kill each other long enough to get that gold. While this is going on one of Marge’s girls kills a client so Marge and her girls have to flee. Mike decides to cut them in on the deal.
The diving sequences and the various miniatures sequences are pretty good when you consider the movie was made on a zero budget. In any other movie they’d have looked hopelessly hokey but Ulmer always could get away with stuff like this. There’s plenty of fun in this movie and plenty of action. The strange storm sequence with the clouds mirroring each other like a crazy Rorschach blot in the sky is a typical clever Ulmer touch.
John Carradine chews every piece of scenery in sight, and Sidney Toler approaches his role with the same gusto. Gale Sondergaard males a great madam and their spirited performances are a delight to watch.
While Mike and Jack try to raise the sunken gold a huge storm approaches the island. The native chief warns Krogan that a big wind and a big wave are going to wash the island away - there is much bad magic in sea and sky. But everyone else is too intent on getting their hands on that gold to worry about the impending cataclysm.
Ulmer was a major director who found himself trapped in the world of ultra-low budget movies but instead of bewailing his fate he got on with the job and turned out a series of fascinating oddities, with this film as well as Bluebeard (also with Carradine in one of his best-ever roles) and the amazingly paranoid film noir Detour being among the highlights of his 1940s work for PRC. No matter how small the budgets all of Ulmer’s movies are worth a look. All contain touches that show a master film-maker at work.
Alpha Video’s DVD is typical Alpha Video. It’s a horrible print but at least it’s watchable and the dialogue is understandable.
If you’re an Ulmer fan this one is worth chasing up, especially if you can get hold of the DVD at a bargain price. Highly recommended as an exercise in sheer fun.