Island of Doomed Men (1940)

  • Year: 1940
  • Released: 20 May 1940
  • Country: United States
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: Passed
  • Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
  • Runtime: 68 min
  • Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews
  • Director: Charles Barton
  • Cast: Peter Lorre, Rochelle Hudson, Robert Wilcox
  • Keywords: prison, undercover agent, doomed man, wrongful imprisonment, doom, remote island,
0% – Critics
0% – Audience

Island of Doomed Men Storyline

Sadistic Stephen Danel owns a penal island, and when he is not humiliating and mistreating his wife, he is torturing his convict prisoners and using them for slave labor. Government agent Mark Sheldon is sent to infiltrate the island and bring Danel to justice.—Ken Yousten

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Island of Doomed Men Movie Reviews

A film that lets Lorre be Lorre

Given his reputation as the archetypal crazed villain, in his long film career Peter Lorre played relatively few such characters, but his Stephen Danel in “Island of Doomed Men” is powerful enough to imprint such an image in generations of movie-watchers. With typical grace and intelligence, Lorre crafts this pulp heavy into an intricate portrayal of the quintessential fascist bully, winning through intimidation, gratified at bending others to his will yet genuinely puzzled and hurt by his inability to earn the love of his cherished captive-wife. As with so many other films he appeared in, the mercurial actor brings something real and human to this typically false and silly Hollywood pantomime.

Peter Lorre at his most menacing

Peter Lorre gives one of his most evil performances as the owner of the titled place. The plot has a new government agent being put on the track of Peter Lorre’s character. When the G-man’s contact his killed by one of Lorre’s agents, the G-man is sent to prison for the killing even though everyone knows there is more to the story. Lorre has the man paroled into his care and brought to his island where he is mining diamonds. Lorre wants to know what our hero knows, but he isn’t talking and a battle of wills is set in motion.

This is a good solid little thriller that doesn’t quite make a great deal of sense plot wise, but even so the film holds your interest. I had put the film on last night in order to use it as something to drift off to, instead I found the tale riveting enough I was up an extra 70 minutes. Lorre is the reason that one falls into this. His quite demeanor is unnerving. He does very little but its clear from his orders and the way everyone reacts to him (watch how they light his cigarettes) that he is a bad dude.

Worth a look if you should run across it.

Seen on Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater in 1966

1940’s “Island of Doomed Men” was among the 11 Columbia titles included in the SON OF SHOCK television package in the late 1950s, one of three to star Peter Lorre, followed by “The Face Behind the Mask” and “The Boogie Man Will Get You.” The ill-fated actor Robert Wilcox (“The Man They Could Not Hang”) is cast as Mark Sheldon, undercover agent from the Department of Justice, who certainly picks a roundabout way to conduct his investigation; convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, orchestrated by the very man he’s investigating, Lorre’s Stephen Danel, winding up exactly where he intended to be all along after several uncertain months of good behavior. Dead Man’s Isle is the place where Danel employs parolees as slave labor to mine diamonds when not being flogged for disobedience, with only three armed guards (Charles Middleton, Don Beddoe and Bruce Bennett) and an electrified fence to protect his home (“to keep out the animals and snakes!”). Also held captive is Danel’s beautiful wife Lorraine (Rochelle Hudson), habitually clinging to Sheldon despite her husband’s protests and seeking aid from houseboy Ziggy (George E. Stone), whose pet monkey throws a fit at the sight of the boss (“keep that monkey away from me!”). The script’s characters are fairly one-dimensional, much like Warners’ 1939 Karloff vehicle “Devil’s Island,” but Lorre’s quiet, soft-spoken presence is more unnerving than any bombastic, overdone performance, making those moments when he does lose his cool quite chilling (what was it about that monkey anyway?). Every time he needs a light someone is there to fearfully do it with shaking hands, and the reactions of others matter more since Hollywood didn’t dare show any depravity. The supporting cast is surprisingly strong but it’s Lorre’s show all the way, actually one of the few vehicles in which he’s top billed as the main heavy (he and Rochelle Hudson had previously co-starred in “Mr. Moto Takes a Chance”). Despite its SHOCK! pedigree, “Island of Doomed Men” aired just once on Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater on Oct 1 1966.