Wanna know why I love Warner Brothers movies from the '30s and '40s? TORRID ZONE is why. I knew nothing about it except it starred Cagney, O'Brien and Sheridan. That, plus the dubious added bonus of seeing Cagney with a mustache, was enough for me. You can do that with a Warner Brothers film from those days and nine out of ten times you won't get burned. When I put it in the DVD player, there was Pat O'Brien, being a complete jerk, yelling his head off, while Ann Sheridan sang a song in a Central American dive that represented the closest thing this film came to the almost-always necessary "nightclub" scene you'll find in so many Warner Brothers movies. The film is about banana growing in Central America. I had no idea. As I said - all I knew was the title, the stars and the mustache.
So I'm watching it wondering why Pat O'Brien is such an unlikable schmo when Cagney, and his mustache, shows up. Seems O'Brien is having a little trouble with some local revolutionaries who want their land back and have been sabotaging the banana business. So O'Brien hires Cagney, whom he hates, to run things because Jerome Cowan, whom he also hates, is proving to be useless in the simple task of moving bananas from one place to another. Meanwhile, Ann Sheridan is a spitfire who has a snappy comeback for everything and I mean everything. Say anything to her and she's Groucho Marx with better legs:
"You've finally stepped down to your own level!"
"That's still about three floors above yours!"
And throughout it all, Cagney and Ann Sheridan keep exchanging sexy dialogue (sexy for 1940 and not bad for today either). Even Andy Devine - Andy Devine! - gets into the act. When Cagney threatens to turn Ann Sheridan upside down and shake her to get the money she owes him, Devine says he'd like to hang around and watch, in a tone that clearly says he's hoping more than just loose change comes tumbling out of her dress. George "Superman" Reeves shows up in an effort to prove that although he can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, he can't do a Spanish accent to save Metropolis. Siiii, Seen - YOOOR!
Did I mention it's all about bananas?
Snappy dialogue flying fast
and furiously, Cagney shoving guys around, Ann Sheridan being as sassy
as one woman can possibly be, Pat O'Brien proving he's a lot more fun
when he's not playing some sort of revered sainted figure,
Grady Sutton being Grady Sutton in a small part as O'Brien's put upon
assistant, George Tobias as a likable revolutionary, Superman before he was Superman... who knew all of
this was in this film?
Back in 1940, Walter Hale of the New York Daily News said : "Its accelerated pace, tough performance and rough humor are a combined guarantee against boredom." He was talking about TORRID ZONE, but he could have been talking about almost any Warner Brothers movie of this period. Even when they aren't gems, they are diamonds in the rough, and they're worth their weight in gold. Or bananas for that matter. - JB
MAN, MYTH OR MUSTACHE?
In his autobiography, Cagney by Cagney, the actor said that even when he was on films that he thought were predictable or second rate, he would try to think of ways to make his part memorable. Hence the mustache, which the brass at Warners initially objected to.