“Something quick, something entertaining, something to keep them in after the “A” picture,” must have been one of the thoughts in the heads of Monogram Pictures’ in the 1930s. More famously, they were known for their set of series films, such as the Charlie Chan movies. Infamously, there were movies like “Sensation Hunters”, which surprisingly keeps its minutes above murky water, slightly entertaining while dragging on with overcooked melodrama that keeps stacking up until it topples over completely. Until then, society on board a cruise ship poo-poos those whom are not their own, such as Dale Jordan (Marion Burns), who seems like a high-quality girl until it is learned by the far rosier passengers that she’s part of a troupe of cabaret girls. Since this is the 1930s, there are none that’ll pop out of their bras, but the mother hen of them, Trixie Snell (Juanita Hansen, formerly a silent-screen actress) looks closely like a genuine Mae West knockoff.
So naturally, Dale isn’t accepted by the other passengers on board by the basis of her choice of career. But bet on that high-brow society being complete hypocrites. Sure they don’t like those who don’t seem as respectable as them, but they probably enjoy the same vampy pleasures under night’s cover when they can’t be judged in a prim and proper drawing room or at cotillions. No matter though, because Dale is on her way to Panama to face what she’s never experienced before. Jerry Royal (Arline Judge) meets her, realizes her inexperience, and takes her under her wing. She knows the ropes, and has been up and down them for years. And she has that style of speech that makes “Hudsucker Proxy” fans cream themselves. It’s not as fast as Jennifer Jason Leigh performs it, but she might have very well studied Arline Judge’s work here, if only for such lines as, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a horse’s neck,” in which the meaning of that certain scene involved money and the need to make enough of it to live and do a little more than just living.
Dale blows off Tom Baylor (Preston Foster) on board the ship for the Bull Ring Café in Panama City. This is where Trixie has her girls perform and within time, Dale dislikes it immensely. It doesn’t feel like the place she should be and the souls here are ragged and rotten, or as much as they can be made out to seem. Amusingly in one scene, Jerry gets tangled in the grasp of a German ship captain, while Walter Brennan hilariously stutters his way through as the waiter of the establishment, whistling through words and taking orders all the way. Hardly an idiot, but just the obligatory comic relief. There’s also a fistfight between the rundown Trixie and another one of the showgirls, which makes one thankful that the Hays Code doesn’t exist here. It’s exploitative to a point, but somehow pleasant in a way. It’s a “B” picture that doesn’t cause suffering like a lot of “B” pictures do. That comes also by director Charles Vidor who would be known a decade later for the musical “Cover Girl” and “Gilda”, featuring Rita Hayworth. Even when the plotline is classless, Vidor stocks it with some class. The Bull Ring Café is spacious enough to not look entirely illegitimate, and the Washington Hotel, Dale’s residence for a time, is quietly tasteful.
All this, which makes it look like a simple travelogue at times, shows that the cover of the DVD cannot fool you. Surely sexy, but never that sexy. That kind of tawdriness can’t be found here, but it’s still brief fun.