Torrid Zone1940

Director: William Keighley
Stars: James Cagney, Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien, Andy Devine, Helen Vinson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 88 minutes

If it ain't the heat it's the humidity--and the humor--that makes Torrid Zone one of the funniest movies that James Cagney ever starred in. This one's a real treat, clocking in at a brisk 88 minutes with rapid-fire double-entendres, tropical banana-republic atmosphere (courtesy of the great cinematographer James Wong Howe), and a satirical send-up of just about every south-of-the-border stereotype that Hollywood ever perpetuated. Cagney borrowed Cesar Romero's mustache for his energetic role as Nick Butler, a smooth operator in Honduras (or rather, the Warner Bros. backlot version of Honduras) who's the best banana plantation foreman in the business. Big-shot plantation owner Steve Case (played by Cagney's favorite costar, Pat O'Brien) needs Nick's magic touch to deliver his crop on time, but there's a few complications: Not only is Nick trading gunfire with a local revolutionary (played to the hilt by George Tobias), but he's quite happily distracted by Lee Donley (Ann Sheridan), a savvy chanteuse who can hold her own--and a slick deck of cards--with the big boys. Add some generous comic support from Andy Devine as an incompetent plantation-hand, and additional mischief from Helen Vinson as a sultry seductress (is their any other kind?), and you've got a hot date for fun in the sun. Cagney's clearly having a blast with his frequent director William Keighley, and Sheridan keeps her costars on their toes, performing a zesty nightclub routine and effortlessly earning her title as Hollywood's "Oomph Girl," a nickname that originated with Warner's well-orchestrated 1939 publicity campaign that made her a star. Available separately or as part of the James Cagney Signature Collection, this first-rate comedy comes with a variety of Warner Bros.' "Night at the Movies 1940" short subjects, recreating the 1940 moviegoing experience with musical short featuring Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, the historical short "Pony Express Days," and the Oscar-nominated Bugs Bunny cartoon "A Wild Hare." Two 1940 movie trailers are also included, for The Torrid Zone (which critics compared favorably to the comedy classic The Front Page) and the Errol Flynn warped-history adventure Santa Fe Trail. --Jeff Shannon

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