Torture Ship

Year of Release: 1939
Genre: Crime/Horror
Rated: Approved
Running Time: 63 minutes (1:03)
Director: Victor Halperin


Lyle Talbot ... Lt. Bob Bennett
Irving Pichel ... Dr. Herbert Stander
Julie Bishop ... Joan Martel
Anthony Averill ... Dirk
Julian Madison ... Paul
Wheeler Oakman ... John Ritter
Russell Hopton ... Harry 'The Carver' Bogard
Sheila Bromley ... Poison Mary Slavish
Leander De Cordova ... Ezra Matthews
Demetrius Alexis ... Steve Murano
Skelton Knaggs ... Jesse Bixel
Eddie Holden ... Ole Olson
Stanley Blystone ... Capt. Mike Briggs


A doctor working on his experiments to cure the criminal mind takes extreme measures in order to continue his research. The doctor purchases a boat, loads his equipment and patients on board and then sets off on the ocean to complete his treatments. Things don't go as planned for our nefarious physician concerning his patients' rehabilitation.


Torture Ship, remindin' us that once you reach the point of doin' the exact opposite of what you started out tryin' durin' a science experiment, it may just be possible that you have no idea what the hell you're doin'. I mean, that's the kinda frustrated tactic you generally see out of a 10-year-old kid who can't solve a level in Adventures of Lolo, not a guy with a buncha medical degrees hangin' on his wall. An speakin' of people who succeed against all odds, Skunky Hernandez an his familia actually got that movie screen vertical, an mostly straight. I'da never believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Course, Skunky was too cheap to rent a crane like he shoulda done, an that frugality resulted in the untimely death of Gnarl, Skunky's beloved scraggly old barn cat, when one of the chains came loose from a backhoe scoop an sent the screen plummetin' down on top of 'im. I know that there're always sacrifices that hafta be made in the name of progress, but I'd like to observe a moment of silence in memory of Gnarl, a good friend, an mouse destroyer extraordinaire. Amen. But like I was sayin', the screen's actually standin' now, an the whole process only ended up costin' Skunky four members of his work crew after a fight broke out that resulted in a few broken ribs an a separated shoulder. Saw that happen too, an I've gotta say that that fight was easily the best Scaffold Match I've seen since The Road Warriors took on The Midnight Express back in '86. Skunky even got Dick Buford to come out an install radio sound so the audio gets piped in over the car radios. Skunky wanted to go with the time-tested speaker on a post deal where you hang the speaker on your window, but this was one time where I hadda err on the side of modern technology. There'd be so much broken glass layin' around the lot from dimwits forgettin' to put the speaker back in the cradle before drivin' off that the service guys from Fred's Retreads'd be out there airin' up white walls three hours a night just to get everyone out the gate. Dick's the only electrician in Chickawalka County who'll work for hamburger, so Skunky kinda got what he paid for when the guy blew every single fuse in Skunky's house an fried his electric Miracle Can testin' out the system, but this ain't a business for sissies. So even though Skunky's all P.O.'d about the tower's signal strength (he thinks there'll be people in town listenin' to the movies for free), everything does actually work. For now, at least. He's still got a long way to go, but this's startin' to look more'n more plausible all the time. Even hauled off the old Grime-Time marquee from the back yard last week so he could get 'er stood up outside the cattle guard leadin' up to the parkin' lot. I think he temporarily lost a couple more cousins doin' that too, cause apparently there'd been a family of bobcats livin' in the shade of that thing for the last several years, an they weren't real happy about those goofs showin' up an messin' with their feng shui.

Anyhow, I figured that in honor of Skunky's progress, it might be a good idea to remind everybody what they're in for if'n they plan to patronize Skunky's drive-in, cause this week we've got the public domain classic, Torture Ship, which is actually only one letter away from bein' a perfect description of the movie. But around these parts we don't go in for that "separate but equal" crapola, so this flick's gonna get just as much time an attention as a movie that doesn't result in the entire audience desperately pawin' around in their glove boxes lookin' for a pen to play tic-tac-toe with. So submitted for your approval, here're a few of the things you stand to learn if you'll just have the decency to keep your eyes on the screen, instead of the roof of the backseat. First, if all five members of your criminal syndicate get beaten up by two orderlies with arms like garden hoses, it's prolly time to consider a career change. Second, in the olden days folks ran a tight ship, an if you fell off that ship, findin' a way home was your problem. An third, you really know you've had it when you're at the mercy of a mad doctor who can't even afford his own lair, cause he prolly lost his nest egg payin' off a buncha malpractice suits.

But the thing I liked about this movie was the way it demonstrates how luck can be just as important, if not more important, than brains. Sometimes that's good, an sometimes it's bad, but luck really is the great equalizer in life, cause it don't give a damn who you are or whether you deserve what you're about to get. Take the survivin' med student in this flick for instance; can you imagine what happened with his career after gettin' stuck doin' his fellowship on the Torture Ship? I imagine the subsequent interviews probably opened somethin' like this; "So, I understand that you kidnapped, drugged, and experimented on human test subjects with Dr. Herbert 'the loose screw' Stander during your internship. How do you feel these felonies have helped mold you into the kind of upstanding medical professional that we'd like to add to our team?" Then the guy hasta look back at the Dean of Medicine with a straight face an say: "My time with Dr. Stander was very enlightening, and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. But while I did learn a great deal from him, I didn't feel that his program was a good fit for me on an ethical level." Then the Dean'd say somethin' like: "So if you didn't approve of his methods, why did you agree to help him kill a half dozen patients?" an he'd hafta try maintainin' eye contact while he explains that he was afraid of losin' his scholarship an havin' to go back home to castrate pigs with his teeth on the farm or somethin'. This's worse than havin' worked under Gregory House. I mean, the man couldn't be more blackballed if he'd just been tea-bagged by Mr. T. His career is over, he just don't know it yet. Unfortunate too, cause there're a lotta people out there who wanna point the finger at these people for bein' what's wrong with society, when really they may've just been kicked in the gondolas by Lady Luck. So let's all try to be a little less quick to judge, okay? Not everyone gets the kindly old custodian who's decided to take the time to train their apprentice correctly. Sometimes you get the insecure, middle-aged drunk who knows you're gonna have his job inside six weeks if he don't set you up to fail. Try thinkin' about that the next time you're about to say somethin' to the guy washin' your windshield in traffic, how 'bout it?

The movie begins with these criminals trapped on board a boat where they're discussin' a mutiny against a group of doctors (Dr. Stander, Paul, an Dirk) wearin' painter's smocks, only they're doin' it right in front of this big giant air duct that's got Dolby digital surround sound an allows the doctors to hear the entire conversation, an pretty quick the medical professionals decide to wipe their butts with the Hippocratic oath an go rough up the crooks (Ritter, Harry, Ezra, Steve an Jesse). Meanwhile, in the next room, a coupla dames (Mary an Joan) are accusin' each other of bein' snitches, an pretty quick all the stuff that nobody really cares about starts bustin' loose. Unfortunately, Captain Bob's on the floor above 'em lookin' down at their cleavage from his glass-bottomed bridge, an he manages to get downstairs an break up the fight before anyone's dress gets bound up enough to accentuate the female figure. Then doc Stander takes Ezra down to this medical lab where all the equipment is impervious to the effects of ocean currents, an sticks 'im with this serum that's supposed to make 'im wanna stop killin' people for their watches an start helpin' old ladies cross the street. Course, all the serum actually does is give 'im inoperable elbow cancer an kill 'im deader'n a hummingbird in a bug zapper. Then Stander an Captain Boregan head down to the Foxy Boxing ring to get front row seats for the big rematch between Mary an Joan, only Stander's got a one track mind, so all he wants to do is get Joan into his laboratory to see if maybe his death serum can be overcome by the feminine need to nag. The next mornin', Ritter's up on deck talkin' to first string Captain Briggs who only hasta drive the boat durin' daytime hours cause he became a big war hero after gettin' a chunka Mexican tank shrapnel embedded in his hinder durin' the Spanish/American War, tryin' to bribe 'im into sidin' with the crooks cause that line about crime not payin' is complete BS an everybody knows it. Cept while that's goin' on, one of Ritter's underworld underlings (Murano) gets dragged down to the operatin' room an forced to drink outta the thug jug, which ultimately results in 'im wakin' up lookin' like the assistant credit manager from Montgomery Ward the mornin' after the office Christmas party. Murano's P.O.'d, an when the first mate tries stoppin' 'im on his way to the coffee pot he decides to pick the guy up over his head like the Ultimate Warrior an improve the ship's nautical miles per gallon, only deck security don't like that, so then he hasta beat up half the crew until somebody puts 'im down with a frozen chimichanga.

By this point Stander's a little bummed out, bein' as he's accomplished little more'n reinventing steroids, so he decides to try the serum on Bob, even though Bob is doing well and already has a very happy partner back at the clubhouse. All this does is make Bob hulk out an try to climb the crow's nest with Joan secured under one arm, while the criminals run loose on the boat stealin' various weapons of ass destruction an plot to revoke Stander's doctor/patient privileges. Cept the crew finds out about the missin' guns, so Ritter hasta get Murano to hide the guns in his hospital jello so nobody'll be tempted to give 'em up once the crew starts torturin' suspects one by one with their rendition of In the Navy, only this old comic relief Swede takes Murano's dirty dishes an Joan ends up findin' one of the guns while she's pawin' around in the leftovers. Then Joan tries springin' Bob before Stander can give 'im another sanity vaccination, but she gets 'er gun taken away faster'n a Muslim at a Texas rifle range. This does distract Stander an his "ve vare only folloving ordares" orderlies long enough for Bob to squirt out all the specter nectar an replace it with distilled water however, so now Bob can wander around the boat like a George Romero extra without anybody givin' 'im the business. Unfortunately, this's about the point where Stander decides he's gonna juice Joan, so Bob hasta bust into the old Swede's room an confiscate his gun while he's lookin' into the mirror an pretendin' to be Clint Eastwood. Then he enlists Ritter an his band of scary men to take over the bridge, only there's this little known downside to hirin' P.O.'d murderers as mercenaries, an Ritter's gangland guidos end up makin' medical waste outta Paul an messin' up Stander bad enough to delight in the irony that he's the only guy on board who could possibly save his life. Now it's payback time, an the goons all start eatin' the doc's private stocks an chuggin' the vintage until he gets so mad that he radios into the galley to let everybody know that they're all about to slump over dead like Elvis on the toilet if they don't let 'im give 'em another shot. Course, it's actually Bob talkin' over the radio pretendin' to be Stander so he can trick 'em into comin' into the lab an whang 'em over the head with a surgical mallet an retake the ship. This seems like a good time to cut off the review cause I'm startin' to get a headache just dignifyin' this snoore-fest with an honest assessment. Although, if you're one of those guys who likes to have middle-aged bitches who dress up in Catwoman outfits hook your nipples up to a car battery while they swat you with a soup ladle, you can check out the link below to enjoy the remainder of this public domain putzery.

Alright, well, I'm pretty sure a little piece of my soul just died for Victor Halperin's sins. Kinda strange that the same guy who directed White Zombie, which was pretty decent by 1930s movie standards, also made this turkey. It's times like this that I almost regret utilizing a ratings system based only partially on my personal opinion, because it means that this thing's gonna end up with a better rating than some other flicks that're far more watchable. I make it a point never to drop the "b" word unless a movie really deserves it, but this thing is unequivocally and unapologetically boring. And that's considering I wasn't even watching the Alpha print that adds almost 15 minutes to the running time. Granted, having done so would likely have made the flick a little more coherent (although it's still easy enough to follow), but it would have also made it even more excruciating to endure. Every time I watch a flick like this I start to question giving movies like Creature from the Haunted Sea a 16%, because I start thinking; "is Creature *really* only 4% better than this garbage?" And even more so than that example, I wonder whether something like The Creeping Terror is actually only 2% better, because when asked which of the two titles I'd rather watch at any given moment, Creeping Terror wins every time without hesitation. I've read that the script, which was based on a story written by Jack London called "A Thousand Deaths," is allegedly pretty faithful to the source material, but I find that a little hard to believe knowing how talented an author London was, and how good Halperin's direction was on White Zombie. I mean, how could it actually be a faithful adaptation of a story written by an author of London's caliber, with a director as decent as Halperin, and turn out this bad? I guess it's a little late for answers, given that everyone involved has been dead for 40 years, but yeesh, this one really stinks. Way, way too much talking in this thing, and perhaps even more damaging than that is the fact that they get all wishy washy about whether or not the doctor is a villain or not. Or rather, they *try* to be ambiguous about it, because the reality is that anyone who'd try this kind of thing is completely and utterly without conscience. But that doesn't stop them from putting in that little moment of victory near the end where the doctor sees his good intentions pay off, nor does it stop them from including dialog where Lyle Talbot tries to cheer up the surviving orderly after the doctor croaks by reminding him that he's confident he'll do great things following in the doctor's footsteps. You mean the footsteps where the guy holds people against their will for involuntary medical experiments that kill most of them? I mean, it's not that I mind a villain who *thinks* they're doing the right thing, cause there've been a lot of great flicks that utilize that angle, but when the movie itself fluctuates between demonizing and canonizing the guy depending upon his success rate, that's pretty ridiculous.

In any event, let's take the scalpel to this thing and hope for a wave big enough to set the incision off target and sever its jugular. The crux of the plot isn't too bad. It's when you start analyzing the smaller details that everything goes to pieces like a gopher caught in a lawnmower. Now, I don't claim to have ever performed medical procedures on anyone before (specially not if the AMA's readin'), but wouldn't any kind of medical experiment be extremely dangerous on a boat that's constantly rocking one way or another? This is a case of a locational gimmick completely screwing up the plausibility of the story. Furthermore, why does the doc try injecting the serum into people without the "criminal taint?" Especially after he's already seen the serum kill people. What can you possibly hope to learn by trying this, given that the serum is supposed to target the criminal nervous center, when the person you're injecting doesn't even HAVE that particular fictitious lobe? Asininis in extremis, that's this movie's plot in a nutshell. The acting put forth by most of the supporting cast is kinda lackluster, on top of the fact that acting as an art form was just a whole lot different back in 1939 than it is now. I'm not gonna poke at it for being a product of its time, but I will say that nobody in this movie provides anything even approaching an emotional response from the audience. In other words; it's dull. Really, really dull.

Here's who matters and why: Lyle Talbot (Amazon Women on the Moon, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe, Tobor the Great, Mesa of Lost Women, Atom Man vs. Superman, Batman and Robin 1949, One Body Too Many), Irving Pichel (Destination Moon, Dracula's Daughter), Julie Bishop (The Black Cat 1934, Tarzan the Fearless), Sheila Bromley (Nightmare Circus), Anthony Averill (The Phantom Creeps), Russell Hopton (Zombies on Broadway), Eddie Holden (The Mad Monster), Wheeler Oakman (The Ape Man, Buck Rogers 1939, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, The Phantom Empire), Stanley Blystone (Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Flight to Mars, Mysterious Island, Atom Man vs. Superman, Phantom of the Opera 1943, The Invisible Man Returns, The Man They Could Not Hang, The Phantom Empire), Demetrius Alexis (Freaks), Skelton Knaggs (House of Dracula, Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere, Isle of the Dead, The Invisible Man's Revenge). Lyle Talbot, the one stand out member of the cast (at least before he started working with Ed Wood), would probably prefer if you remembered him as Joe Randolph from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

The special effects... well, it was 1939, so there aren't any. Ask me if that improves the enjoyment factor of the movie. As for the shooting locations, the print that I watched was bad enough that it gets a pass in terms of looking like maybe they were actually on a boat during the scenes that take place on deck, although I suspect they were using rear projection. The scenes that take place on deck are decent enough, after all, you've got a steering wheel, hand rails, and people runnin' around dressed like the guy on the Cracker Jack box. Course, you'll probably notice that the ship remains constantly steady for the benefit of that lucky cinematographer. The doctor's laboratory isn't especially impressive, and looks as though it was thrown together rather hastily, but at least the guest cabins aren't too bad. The general feeling, however, is that this isn't really happening on a boat, and that's kinda important when you've got the word "ship" in the title. The soundtrack, while being dated and not nearly gloomy enough for what's taking place on screen, is actually pretty active throughout the movie. Soundtracks were kind of a new thing for movies to have back in those days, and the bizarre thing about the soundtrack in this movie is that it's overused. It primarily utilizes strings and the piano, and while there is one instance of what you might call "extreme violining" that'd make Harry Manfredini's heart swell with pride, the music is also pretty drab and uninteresting, much like the rest of the movie. Overall, forget this thing. Just pretend like you never read this review and do not make any attempt to obtain or watch this turkey. It's not "so bad it's good," and there is no redeeming value hidden away that can help overcome the insurmountable boredom it inspires. Absolutely pain inducing, forget about it, it's stinko.

Rating: 12%