Torture Ship (1939)
Some films set you up for a real treat, but the execution falls flat. This one sets us up and kicks us in the groin. And don’t let the title fool you — no torture here, unless you count the film itself.
Dr. Herbert Stander has an idea. Since he faces indictment for illegally testing the relationship of endocrine to criminality in hopes of eventually curing criminals medically, he offers seven known murderers a boat ride to another country. This way they can all escape the American judicial system. All he asks in return is that they allow him to surgically experiment on them during the trip. They face execution if they stay. At least this way, he explains, they stand a fifty-fifty chance.
So, the trip begins, as do our hopes of a thirty-year predecessor to A Clockwork Orange. No such luck. Every avenue that was opened for exploration is quickly abandoned in favor of soap opera, mostly consisting of boring and often stupid scuffles and arguments between criminals and crew for control of the ship. We see very little experimentation and consequence. In fact, the experiments function almost exclusively as a way to create tangential conflicts, which become the focus of the film. I wonder why no one told them they had a good idea at the core.
But the torture isn’t over yet. From this horrible misdirection spin problems with the other aspects of the film. Plot points are either predictable or pointless, pivotal decisions are half-explained, and the dialogue is at times absurd. “If this test fails us … we’re lost,” the doctor says at one point. When another character asks what he means, his response is merely, “We’ll have to turn back.” I’m as stumped as you are.
If you’re still reading this review, it must be for amusement. Sadly, the movie is mostly too boring to fit into the so-bad-it’s-good category. If you do, though, for some ludicrous reason, ever watch this one, make sure you at least skip to the final scene, which is laugh-out-loud funny for its ridiculous “silly foreigner” portrayal. Since you have made it this far in the review, I guess I’ll make it worth your time: Did you know Edgar Allan Poe was a plagiarist? Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets were written to a male. Sam Raimi said Bruce Campbell has bad breath. There. Now you know something you can tell your friends. See if you can drink a gallon of milk in fifty-seven minutes, try to make a stick man out of real sticks, look for Biblical references to unicorns, just don’t waste your time with Torture Ship.