Friday, March 23, 2018

FEATURE FRIDAY: WORLD FOR RANSOM (1954)

    Between World War 1 and the Vietnam War, Southeast Asia lured adventurers of all stripes. The exotic locales, the wonderful climate, the cosmopolitan atmosphere---the perfect place to find new and exciting experiences. 

     Our movie recommendation for this week is a story of old Singapore and a soldier of fortune: World for Ransom. 

      World for Ransom is also historically significant: it was one of the first films based on a television series. That was an early 1950's syndicated show that aired in 1952 called The Adventures of China Smith. The TV series was also filmed in Singapore and starred legendary actor Dan Dureya in the lead role. 

     China Smith was an amiable rogue, living the post-war South Seas as a soldier of fortune. In World for Ransom, he's returned to Singapore after 'an incident' made life too hot for him in Macao. Back home, he adopts the alias of Mike Callahan and sets up as a private investigator. His old girlfriend Frennessey (played by the lovely Marian Carr) finds him and hires him for a delicate case. It seems that she cuckolded Smith while he was away in World War 2 and married a complete loser named Julian March (played by Charles Knowles). March had been kicked out of the British Army---for reasons we're not told---and his wife suspects that he is in trouble again. 

     Smith finds out that her suspicions are correct: and March is working for a vicious gangster---the notorious Alexis Pederas (played by Gene Lockhart). Little does he suspect however, that Pederas' plan is kidnapping Britain's top nuclear scientist---"one of four men who knows the secret of the H-bomb" as we're told. Pederas holds the scientist for ransom to the highest bidder. 

      So far from having an easier time in Singapore, Smith finds himself chased by British Intelligence, Pederas' gangsters, and the Communists. It's a wild ride all the way through the film's 82 minutes of solid action as Smith has to rescue the scientist to clear his name.

     World for Ransom was directed by the legendary Robert Aldrich---early in his career. There is some above-average camera work and special effects: a lot more than we see from television today. Early television was a great field for undiscovered talent among technicians. They got to work with experienced actors who were often at the end of their Hollywood careers. As an example, both the TV series and World for Ransom had veteran stars like Dan Dureya, Charles Knowles, Keye Luke, Nigel Bruce, and Reginald Denny on a regular basis. 

       With a line-up like that, World for Ransom couldn't help but be a hit. And it was a regular on independent stations for several years. 

World for Ransom gets a perfect score: ✪✪✪✪ 


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