Deep in the Amazon jungle, archaeologist Dr Keith ‘Brandy’ Brandon (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) leads a private expedition in search of Inca treasure.
On finding an ancient temple, one of gold-seekers, David Richardson (Vincent Price), dies after being shot by poison-tipped arrows and the team soon find themselves surrounded by hostile natives.
The situation is made even more complicated when Richardson’s wife Stephanie (Joan Bennett) arrives and causes temperatures to rise between Brandy and the caddish Forrester (George Sanders).
With a screenplay by double Oscar-winner Frances Marion, a massive indoor jungle set and a prime cast, this was one of the last films from the original master of the American sound horror film, British born James Whale. But this jungle melodrama turned out to be a critical and financial disaster on its release in January 1940. Douglas Fairbanks Jr called it ‘hell’, Joan Bennett said it remained her worst movie, and George Sanders held his nose every time he had to say a line.
Price called Whale ‘a wonderful man’ but ‘in spite of the film’s great seriousness of intent it was probably one of the funniest films ever shot anywhere in the world. About five of the worst pictures ever made were all in that one picture. We all adored making it because we realised there wasn’t a single word in it that was real.’
And it’s the dialogue that makes this a hoot to watch, especially one line which Vincent Price often recited when asked about this Floperoo…
‘Brandy. Do you think a man can be in love with two women at the same time and in his heart be faithful to each and yet want to be free?’
Here’s another doozy…
Tex (George Bancroft): ‘Hey them there alligators sure do look hungry.’
Forrester: (George Sanders): ‘Well don’t fall in, Tex. You might poison them. That’d be tragic.’
Whale made just one more film, the World War II romantic melodrama They Dare Not Love, before retiring from the film industry in 1941. He committed suicide by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on 29 May 1957 at the age of 67.
The opulent temple set stood 125 feet high, 225 feet wide, and covered 45,000 square feet. It was later recycled in Universal’s The Mummy’s Hand in 1940.
A print and its trailer are preserved in the Library of Congress collection, Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr as Keith Brandon
Joan Bennett as Stephanie Richardson
John Howard as Hal Scott
George Sanders as Forrester
Alan Hale as Doctor Loren
George Bancroft ‘Tex’ Morgan
Vincent Price as David Richardson
Gene Garrick as Graham
Francis McDonald as Gracco
Ray Mala as Mala (as Ray Mala)
Peter Bronte as Santos
Lupita Tovar as Native Girl
And check Dr Gangrene’s look back at the film