TRANSATLANTIC. Fox, 1931. Edmund Lowe, Lois Moran, John Halliday, Greta Nissen, Myrna Loy, Jean Hersholt. Oscar, Best Art Direction: Gordon Wiles. Director: William K. Howard.

   Just lately I’ve been catching up to a lot of films I’ve wanted to see — or see again — for quite some time, films lost or just unavailable for a generation or more. First and best of the bunch is Transatlantic, which I’ve been keen to watch ever since I saw a still from it in a book on Hollywood Cameramen thirty years ago.

   Made at the dawn (or early morning anyway) of talking pictures, Transatlantic defies every notion you ever had about early talkies; it’s a fast-paced, highly visual thriller, set on a luxury liner with a clever story (by Guy Standing, whose credits include the book for Anything Goes) centered around Edmond Lowe as a shady character fleeing the law, mingling aboard ship with con men, kept women, and the loyal trophy wife (Myrna Lay, back when she usually played oriental temptresses) of a nearly murdered millionaire — who apparently ran a bit of a con himself.

   Director William K. Howard and photographer James Wong Howe take this snappy mystery and serve it up with splendid sets that give the huge ship the appearance of a Byzantine palace or gothic cathedral, jazzed up with snappy editing and a restless, roving camera that follows the action perfectly. All capped off very effectively by a tour-de-force cat-and-mouse shoot-out in the labyrinthine guts of the ship itself.

   Simply dazzling. Not a well-known film, but one I can recommend highly.