Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

DEVIL AND THE DEEP. Paramount, 1932. Charles Laughton, Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. Written by Harry Hervey and Benn W. Levy. Directed by Marion Gering.

   I’ve wanted to see this since I was fourteen and read it mentioned in an article by William K. Everson, and I should say if it doesn’t live up to 50 years of wishful thinking, it ain’t bad at all.

   Charles Laughton had a brilliant career on stage and screen, but he was at his nastiest in those early days at Paramount, in films like this, White Woman and Island of Lost Souls: three chilling and quite different essays in grand guignol screen villainy. This was his second film in the U.S. and his first at Paramount; they gave him special billing, and he deserves every inch of it.

   I should probably add that the writing and direction are nothing much, the special effects downright laughable and the ending drawn out and anticlimactic. But Devil and the Deep is suffused with that elegant Paramount atmosphere that lent distinctive style to films as disparate as Scarlet Empress and Duck Soup — which are not all that dissimilar, come to think of it. There’s just no mistaking a Paramount film from this era, and they are generally a pleasure to look at, if not always to watch.

   The story? Completely forgettable but oddly compelling. Laughton is a naval commander at “A British Submarine Base in Northern Africa” (and don’t that sound Hollywood-exotic!) who has a fetish for imagining his wife (Tallulah Bankhead) is unfaithful to him and tormenting her about it. As the film opens, it’s common gossip about the local British enclave that she’s carrying on with Cary Grant she’s not, but she might as well be because everyone treats her like Miss Sadie Thompson anyway.

   Breaking under the pressure of public opinion and Charlie’s lascivious threats, the poor girl runs off into the night, or rather the Paramount back lot, gets caught up in a rowdy native ceremony and quickly rescued by Gary Cooper. And then…..

   Well, and then things get a bit predictable but enjoyably overblown. (At Paramount, even the inside of a submarine has a spacious look to it.) Cary drops out of the story like a pebble down a canyon, Gary and Tallulah strike sparks, and Laughton gets enough big dramatic scenes to satiate his fans and himself.

   Great filmmaking? Hardly. But a treat for fans of this sort of thing and I’m glad I finally caught it.